Here's what I learned from the Apple Store's 30-minute Vision Pro demo

Zoom in / Mounted near the entrance, these displays allow visitors to touch, but not use, a Vision Pro.

Kyle Orland

For decades, potential Apple customers could wander into any Apple Store and get some hands-on looks and hands-on experience with most of the company's products. Apple Vision Pro is an exception to this simple process; “Mixed-real interest” is required Pre-registration For a half-hour Vision Pro experience, led by an Apple Store employee.

As a longtime veteran of both trade show and retail virtual-reality demos, I was curious to see how Apple would sell the concept of “spatial computing” to the public. As someone who's been following news and reports about the Vision Pro's unique features for months, I was curious to get a brief look at what all the fuss was about without plunking down at least $3,499 for a unit of mine.

After watching a guided Vision Pro demo at a nearby Apple Store this week, I came away with mixed feelings about how Apple is positioning its new computer interface to the public. While the short demo had some definite “oh, wow” moments, the device didn't come with a cohesive story as Apple's next big general-purpose computing platform.

Set up snafus

After arriving a few minutes early for my morning appointment at the diminutive Apple Store, I was told to wait for a display of Vision Pro units set up on a table out front. These headsets are tightly secured in their stands, meaning I couldn't try a unit on or hold it in my hands while I waited. But when I look closely at the hardware (and at some of the promotional videos running on nearby iPads), I can appreciate the Vision Pro's various buttons and straps.

A few minutes later, an Apple Store employee we'll call Craig walked by and said with genuine excitement that he was “very excited” to show off the Vision Pro. He led me to another table, where I sat in a low swivel chair across from another customer, who looked a bit zoned out as he ran through his own Vision Pro demo.

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To facilitate the training needed to guide these in-store demos, Craig told me that Vision Pro, Apple Store employees like him, had access to a new Apple device before the public for the first time. He said interest was steady in the first few days of demos, and after some initial hiccups, the store was now mostly able to stay on schedule.

Unfortunately, some of those demo kinks are still there. At first, Craig had trouble tracking the specialized iPhone used to scan my face and determine the exact fit of the Vision Pro Light Seal to my head. After consulting with a colleague, they decided to download the Apple Store app and use the QR code to access the face scanning tool on my own iPhone. (I was a bit surprised that this fit wasn't offered as part of the scanning process when I booked for my appointment days ago.)

It took three full tries, scanning my face from four angles, before the app spit out the code Craig needed to send my relevant information to the back room. Craig told me that the store has 38 different light brands and 900 corrective lens options, ready to be tweaked to ensure maximum comfort for each specific demo.

After a short wait, another employee brought my demo unit on a round wooden tray that made me feel like I was in a Japanese restaurant. From the solo knit band and fuzzy front cover to the gently coiled cord that leads to the battery pack sitting in the center, the platter is artfully laid out. (I never touched or noticed the rest of the demo's battery pack.)

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At this point, Craig told me that everything I watched on the Vision Pro would be streamed directly to his iPad. Unfortunately, getting that wireless connection going took about five minutes of tapping and tinkering, including multiple removals of the Vision Pro's external battery cord.

Once everything was set up, Craig gave me a brief primer on the views and thumb/index finger taps I use to select, move, and zoom in on things in the VisionOS interface. “You'd pretend to pull a piece and then let go,” he said by analogy. “The faster you go, the faster it rolls, so be mindful of that. Nice and smooth and nice and easy and things will go smoothly for you.”

Fifteen minutes after my designated start time, I was finally ready to present Vision Pro.

A screenplay experience

After putting the headset on, my first impression was how heavy and pinchy the Vision Pro felt on the bridge of my nose. Fortunately, Craig quickly explained how to tighten the fit with a dial behind my right ear, which helped immediately and greatly. After that, it only took a couple of minutes to run a quick calibration of eye and hand tracking. (“Keep your head nice and calm while doing this,” Craig cautioned me.)

Imagine this but with an Apple Store in the background.
Zoom in / Imagine this but with an Apple Store in the background.

Kyle Orland

As we watched the demo properly, it quickly became clear that Craig was reading a script prepared on his iPhone. This was a bit disappointing, as the genuine enthusiasm he had shown in our earlier, informal chat gave way to a dry monotone when delivering obvious marketing lines. “With Apple Vision Pro, you can enjoy your entire photo library in a whole new way,” he droned. “Here, some beautiful shots from the iPhone.”

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Craig looked over the script while I looked at some of the photos and panoramas I had prepared. “Here we have a beautiful panorama, but we're going to experience it in a whole new way…like you're in the exact spot where it was taken,” Craig said. Then we switched to some spatial photos and videos of a happy family celebrating a birthday and blowing bubbles in the backyard. The actors in the video felt a little awkward, but the sense of three-dimensional “presence” in the more authentic video was impressive.

After that, Craig told me, “With spatial computing, your app can be anywhere in your space.” Instead of the view of the store around me, he asked me to replace the digital crown with a virtual environment of mountains bathed in a cold blue twilight. Craig's script seemed to be geared toward the dreaded newcomer who no longer saw the “real world.” “Remember, you are always in control,” Craig assured me. “You can change it at any time.”

From inside the environment, Craig's disembodied voice guided me as I opened a few flat application windows, positioned them around my space, and resized them to my liking. However, instead of letting these sell themselves, Craig pointed out how the web pages are “very beautiful”. [and] Navigating Vision Pro is easy. “As you can see… the text is very sharp, very easy to read. The images on the website are stunning.” Craig wanted me to know that “over a million iPhone/iPad apps” will work like this on Vision Pro on day one.

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