The Weight of Disappointment

This is my Apple Vision Pro review.

I wrote several within the first week I got the headset but none of them seemed to be saying anything that wasn’t already being said. Now that the honeymoon period is likely over for most people, and the AVP Discord is getting much quieter, maybe it’s my time to share.

The Apple Vision Pro is a fantastic prototype of what the future may look like. But it’s just a prototype, deep down, with a lot of shortcomings that turn the AVP into a fancy paperweight on my desk. It sounds harsh, but it’s true. This is not a real product for normal people to use. It’s not even a real product for a tech enthusiast to use.

The first thing anyone is going to think or say when they put an AVP on their head is: “Good lord, this thing is heavy.” It is very heavy. The straps included in the box do absolutely nothing to reduce the amount of weight or pressure you feel on your face or head. Even with a third party top strap, the comfort is terrible. I am a dedicated enthusiast and I still have not managed to wear my AVP for longer than 30 minutes at a time because it is very uncomfortable and hot to wear. My Quest 3 + Elite Strap with Battery I’ve worn for 4 hours straight, if not longer, but that’s not a fair comparison, because the Quest 3 actually had some experiences worth diving into for hours at a time. The AVP does not.

This means that the second thing anyone is going to think after using the headset is, “That’s it? What am I supposed to do with it now?” After the dinosaur app, and seeing a Disney+ movie in 3D HDR, there’s just no real use case for the headset. At first, the defense for this take was that the AVP is a productivity device more than it is a gaming device like the Quest 3, because it clearly wasn’t built with gaming in mind. But the deeper truth is that the AVP is not a good productivity device either.

There are no benefits to using the AVP over just using your monitor at your desk. “But, you can have infinite displays!” No, you can’t. You get one Virtual Display and then you can put apps all around you, sure, but what good is that? I don’t want to be constantly turning my head and body around to look at apps. I want to “three-finger swipe up” to see all my windows in Expose, then pick one to focus on where I am already looking. Very occasionally I will side by side two apps on my display. But, I don’t want to keep turning my head all day long, which is why I use a single ultra wide display and no secondary monitors.

There is absolutely no window management in visionOS, no Expose, which quickly makes any productivity oriented task frustrating and cumbersome. Apps become obscured by other apps, completely vanishing from view, leaving you to sit there pinching and dragging windows all over the place til you find the one you really wanted.

As an example of how half-baked window management is in visionOS, if you are using Virtual Display to control your Mac while you are using Xcode to build an AVP app, every time you build and run your app, it will pop up directly where you are looking when it launches, which is usually right over your virtual display. So every single time you build and launch your app, you have to pinch it and move it away from the virtual display so you can see both at the same time. You quickly learn that you should hit build & run and then quickly look off to the side so the app launches somewhere else, but this is completely insane. Why can’t visionOS remember where the window was seconds ago and put it back in place? Did anyone working at Apple ever use the AVP for development? I really don’t think so.

The deeper issue here is that visionOS is based on iOS, and it has all of the issues that iPads and iPhones have when it comes to productivity. The apps are all Playskool versions of the real apps, even in comparison to their iOS counterparts. There’s no terminal, no real file system, no “real apps” for the platform (depending on your use case, and depending on if you count iPad apps).

If you want to do software engineering, you’re stuck using Virtual Display, or else you’re such an enthusiast that you’re willing to try to use VS Code tunnels to use VS Code through a web browser, which introduces input lag that feels awful to me. What are the chances we’re ever able to do software development fully natively on the Apple Vision Pro? Probably 0%. How long has the iPad been out? 13 years now, right? And can you develop on it? Nope. (Not unless you’re willing to deal with a lot of headaches, I assume, similar to how I see people using the AVP for engineering.)

Past that, all my complaints are possibly pretty niche. You can’t play two videos with audio on at the same time, which may be a niche use case, but it’s still a pretty strange shortcoming considering macOS can play any number of videos with audio all at the same time without issue. AVP doesn’t come out of the box with enabled support for WebXR, so 3D YouTube videos and other content doesn’t work. If you go and turn on a bunch of extra options, you can start watching 3D video on the web, but because there are no controllers with the AVP, none of the open web has been built to deal with it so you can’t really control anything. The doesn’t allow you to create albums and you cannot put photos into albums, it’s just a dumb photo viewer for the most part.

There are a lot of people still in the honeymoon period, people who are very committed to the idea and it allows them to overlook all the shortcomings and issues. Kudos to those people, I wish I could be one of them. But I can’t. The truth is that I have no need for the one thing the AVP does well, which is movie watching. It’s a beautiful way to watch movies if you don’t have a similarly expensive home theater setup at home (and you don’t mind all the glare in the lenses, which ruins the experience unless you watch movies on the moon which balances out the glare).

In that context, the AVP is a pretty okay portable one-person home theater setup. But everything else it’s supposed to do? It doesn’t do any of them at a level I would consider acceptable. Maybe if the AVP was half the weight and it was more comfortable to wear, it would be easier to overlook these shortcomings and enjoy the glimpse of the future it provides. But at the moment, the future seems a little hamstrung by the constraints of iOS and the unnecessary weight of the device.

Unfortunately, the Apple Vision Pro is not really “a computer you strap to your face”. Deep down, it’s “an iPad you strap to your face”, and that’s probably the cruelest thing I can say about the device.

If you’re curious about the promise of head mounted displays, I’d highly recommend a Quest 3 over the Apple Vision Pro. It’s worse than the AVP for productivity use (because the screens are too low resolution in my opinion), but you’re getting a much more fully featured headset for a significantly lower price and you can do a lot more with it out of the box. Neither product is perfect, but the AVP is clearly a prototype geared toward enthusiasts, while the Quest 3 is widely used (and beloved!) by every day normal people all over the country. Full disclosure, I hardly use my Quest 3 these days, but I still think it is a much better way to dip your toes into standalone VR than the AVP.