Why are people returning their Apple Vision Pro headsets?

Why is the highly anticipated Apple Vision Pro headset returning to stores from the hands of early adopters, influencers, and tech bros?

On Friday, Feb 2nd, early adopters flocked to Apple stores to secure bragging rights in being one of the first to pick up Apple's Vision Pro headset and explore Apple's take on spatial computing. The entry price was $3,500, but a generous returns policy meant that users found a loophole to get hands-on with the Vision Pro before the two-week window ended on Feb 16th.

The launch was greeted with mixed reviews, with some users returning their headsets. Predictably, many were YouTubers and self-proclaimed futurists or influencers returning it after rinsing the headset for as much content as possible. These scenesters can be found getting their money back and hopping on the next big thing. But outside of the online hustlers, why are consumers taking a step back from such a highly anticipated product aimed at being the headphones for our eyes?

The weight of innovation: Apple Vision Pro's physical challenge

One of the biggest challenges for early adopters is the physical experience of using the Apple Vision Pro. Many users have reported that the device needs to be lighter, more convenient, and more comfortable for prolonged periods. Weighing in between 21.2 and 22.9 ounces, the weight is almost the equivalent of strapping a 12.9-inch iPad Pro or three iPhone 15 Pro Maxes to your face.

For some, this discomfort is further exacerbated by the design of the light seal, which has been linked to headaches and a sense of watching content through binoculars, diminishing the immersive experience that Apple aimed to deliver.

Another significant challenge is the onset of motion sickness and eye strain, attributed to the immersive content the Vision Pro seeks to deliver. Apple's support page acknowledges this issue, noting a higher probability of motion sickness with its use. This, coupled with reports of the displays causing too much glare, a too narrow field of view, and subsequent vision problems, paints a picture of a device that, while technologically advanced, may not cater well to the physical comfort of its users.

Vision Pro's battle between price and utility

Beyond the physical discomforts, there's a growing sentiment that the Vision Pro's current library of applications and video content does not justify its hefty price tag. At around $3,500 plus tax, buyer's remorse is becoming a common theme among early adopters.

The Apple Vision Pro flirts a little too closely with the age-old problem of tech for tech’s sake. What problems are we solving when the work features and productivity enhancements cannot rival a lag-free mouse and double retina screen setup?

While offering the potential for extended use, the external battery has also been a double-edged sword. The separate, tethered 35.9 Wh battery has left some users feeling let down despite some reporting better than advertised battery life. The necessity of purchasing an additional battery for optimal use has added another layer of consideration for potential and current owners.

Isolation in innovation: the unintended consequence of Apple's Vision Pro

The integration and compatibility issues of the Vision Pro have also been points of contention. Some users have experienced difficulty with the device's eye-tracking feature, reporting soreness and fatigue. Moreover, the need for an iPhone to fully utilize the Vision Pro's capabilities has yet to be well-received by all, particularly when considering the challenges of using a Bluetooth mouse with the device and the presence of a grey box that can obscure the screen.

Furthermore, Vision Pro has been criticized for fostering a sense of isolation among users. The promise of shared, meaningful experiences has yet to be fully realized, making Vision Pro a more solitary experience than some consumers had hoped. This sense of isolation is compounded by the device's design, which requires a precise fit, making it less conducive to being shared among family and friends.

Transforming the AR landscape, one developer at a time

Tristram Bates, the Head of Mobile at NewDay and an influential figure in the UK's largest iOS meetup group, is much more upbeat about the Apple Vision Pro. He told me, "Just like the Radiohead song Everything in Its Right Place, the same can be said for this headset." Although he admitted that spatial computing takes a little getting used to, he also told me, "Just like the Matrix film, it's the first time you're using your eyes like this."

Having tried the headset, I don't believe Apple should have shipped the woven band. It is more visually pleasing, but the other overhead loop provides more support.

Bates also likens the lack of apps to the early days of the iPhone, but this is changing by the week, and we can expect many more to come once developers have had more time to unlock the real-world benefits. But would he recommend it as a valuable purchase in 2024?

"If you're a developer building the next generation of AR apps, it's worth a look. For anyone else, I would hold off."

At the end of our conversation, Bates also pointed out that although influencers and tech bros are putting an Apple Visio Pro on their credit card and returning it is a very New York thing to do, we should expect this during a launch weekend of an entirely new product category. Ultimately, it's not about where we are now but where we are heading that is exciting.

Version one is better than version none

Now that the two-week return window for the Apple Vision Pro has passed, it's time to reflect on the recent events. We must remember that this is the first generation of headsets and that Apple will take all the reported feedback and already have one eye on what future iterations could look like. It's also important to note that Samsung and Google are racing toward bringing smaller glasses-like devices to life.

In its current format, the Vision Pro might be accused of being a crude device with many limitations. But many still need to include that it's a glimpse into the future of a very different world that signals the beginning of the end of staring down at a smartphone.

In the next few years, there will be ongoing heated debates around users embracing a Ready Player One lifestyle and risking being sucked into another world where they are dumbed down with games and entertainment as authoritarian leaders dictate their reality. So, the future success of headsets like the Vision Pro will depend on whether they can eradicate the creepy factor.

We currently have a mixed reality concept that nobody knows what to do with. The fear of the unknown leads many to leap into the worst-case scenario predictions. But the reality is that we have been here before. Nobody predicted how we would all end up paying more than $1,200 for a smartphone that would replace our desktop computers. The next natural step will be finally removing the problem of "Text Neck" and introducing a mixed reality rather than shutting it out completely.

Ultimately, the Apple Vision Pro is a textbook definition of a first-generation product with its long list of gripes. But if we take a step back from the hype, it's not about where we are today but a small glimpse into the future of what's to come.

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