Apple’s highly-anticipated Vision Pro AR/VR headsets are set to officially launch in the United States early next year. However, the tech giant is faced with a multitude of challenges, especially when it comes to making them comfortable to wear for users with vision impairments.
According to a new report by Bloomberg tech analyst Mark Gruman, Cupertino has made a few design changes to the “spatial computing” device after testing confirmed they were bulky and uncomfortable to wear over longer periods of time. In his “PowerOn” newsletter, Gruman noted that the headset currently weighs about a pound, and the company is addressing the issue with the first-generation model by placing an extra strap over the head for better weight balance and distribution.
Gruman says that Apple is working on the second-generation Vision Pro “mixed-reality” headset featuring a “slimmer and lighter” design that is more user-friendly for those who wear glasses. The tech giant attempted something similar with the upcoming headset by not accommodating prescription eyeglasses but chose not to go forward with it.
Apple to Offer Prescription Lenses With Vision Pro
Instead, Apple has partnered with lens maker Zeiss to manufacture special prescription lenses, sold separately through its retail stores, that can be attached to the headset using magnets. Each unit could be shipped from the factory customized to the requirements of customers with impaired vision.
But this leads to other supply chain-related problems. Apple is worried that it will be seen as more of a healthcare provider than a tech company, which it does not want to be, also the fact of having to deal with many different combinations of lenses can be quite challenging. Then there is the case of prescriptions changing over time, making it harder for Vision Pro users to share their headsets with others or even resell them in the future.
Gruman suggests the issue could be resolved by switching Vision Pro to a purely augmented reality-powered device. By ditching the capability to offer a mixed reality experience with both AR and VR, an AR-only Vision Pro could be a comparatively slimmer and lighter device with data overlaid on clear lenses instead of relying on bulky and heavy passthrough cameras and VR screen, noted the Bloomberg analyst.
Apple Files Patent for Developing Adjustable Liquid Lenses
It’s not like the idea has not crossed the minds of developers at Cupertino. In August, Apple filed a patent for making a head-mounted VR or AR display that can be adjusted to correct a person’s eyesight. Each lens part of the “liquid lens” may have a lens chamber filled with liquid. The lens chamber will have rigid or flexible walls that form its optical lens surface.
Apple is also developing actuators or pump and reservoir systems for the next Vision Pro headset’s lenses that could be controlled by the user to make adjustments to correct their vision.
The patent also left clues to a future model of Apple’s AR headsets that could simply be a pair of glasses. Meta is also working on something similar in collaboration with Ray-Ban but is only expected to launch the device in 2025.
Based on reports, Apple Stores will have dedicated sections for people to try out the Vision Pro headset with different lenses. The Zeiss-Apple lenses could cost anywhere between $300-$600, depending on their power specifications.
Vision Pro is Coming to Stores in Q1 2024
Apple Vision Pro will be available for sale in the first quarter of 2024, with prices starting at $3,499. The device features dual Micro OLED displays with 23 million pixels on each lens panel and a customized 3D lens that allows users to view AR content. It is also equipped with 12 cameras for eye and hand tracking, five sensors, six microphones, and IR illuminators. The whole package is powered by Apple’s M2 silicon and a new bespoke chip called the R1.