A morning with Apple’s true believers at the launch of Apple Vision Pro from Mashable

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The Apple Vision Pro, the company’s first foray into virtual and augmented reality technology (what they prefer to call “spatial computing”) is a hard sell for most people. It’s among Apple’s most expensive offerings, with a $3,499 price tag not including hefty taxes, plus add-ons like a $199 travel case and $99 prescription lenses. On top of that, VR and AR are relatively unproven concepts amongst the general public, with pioneers like HTC, Sony, and Meta struggling to market headsets as a consumer necessity.

But Apple has a history of changing what people are willing to spend money on, fabricating demand for their products practically out of thin air. It hopes to achieve a similar miracle with the Vision Pro by making it as integral to daily life as its phones, watches, and computers. Marketing materials have positioned the device as a tool for work and a venue for entertainment: when the device is on, browsers float in midair and movies surround you for immersive viewing. There is very little talk of its gaming capabilities — perhaps a conscious effort to distance the Vision Pro from its gaming-focused competition.

A crowd of media in front of the 5th Avenue Apple Store.
Credit: Elizabeth de Luna

Physically, the device is as beautiful as Apple could make it at this stage in its development. A single, curved panel of glass comprises the front of the device, with aluminum siding housing the tech magic within. A thin wire snakes out of it and into a battery that is supposed to be stored in the wearer’s pocket during use. A strap hugs the head, making the device resemble a pair of ski goggles. A lighter, less substantial apparatus — a pair of glasses, perhaps — would make the Vision Pro more comfortable and convenient for every day wear. Perhaps we’ll see that in the coming years.

For now, the Apple Vision Pro’s price and design limitations haven’t deterred enthusiasts from purchasing 200,000 units. That’s nowhere near, say, the first iPhone, which sold more than 1 million units in its first weekend. But it’s a promising start for a piece of technology that most people have written off as a fad.

We visited Apple’s Fifth Avenue store on launch day, Feb. 2, to talk to the first people in the world to buy what Apple is calling the gateway to “a new era of spatial computing.”

Tim Cook hugs a visitor in front of the 5th avenue Apple store.
Credit: Elizabeth de Luna
Apple employees cheer and clap outside of the store.
Credit: Elizabeth de Luna

7:55 a.m. — Apple employees cult-ivate excitement for the Vision Pro

As a light mist threatens to become a drizzle, news media crowd the entrance of Apple’s 5th Avenue store, jockeying for the best shot of the doors. At least 20 store employees dressed in blue are crowded around it chanting “AVP” for “Apple Vision Pro” like a new age cult. The store itself is actually just below our feet, but the entrance is at street level enveloped by a gargantuan glass box. On either side of it, orderly lines of customers wait in the cold.

8:00 a.m. — A wild Tim Cook appears!

Employees count down to the store’s opening. At 8 a.m. sharp, Apple CEO Tim Cook pushes open the doors and greets the first guests, shaking their hands and taking photos. Cook retreats inside at 8:05.

Apple employees stretch their hands out in anticipation of the first person in line to exit the store.
Credit: Elizabeth de Luna
The first person in line exit the Apple store, Apple Vision Pro in hand.
Credit: Elizabeth de Luna

8:08 a.m. — The “first in line” guy makes a triumphant exit

The employees continue chanting until they get word that the first person to buy a Vision Pro is about to walk out of the store. They flank the doors in two aisles, stretching their arms out and fluttering their fingers at the empty space in the center, like anticipatory jazz hands.

Then, out he comes, holding his Vision Pro box up in the air like Simba. The employees cheer and chant what sounds like “Ram,” which is either his name or a celebration of the Vision Pro’s memory capabilities. After this first exit, the guy turns around and goes back to the entrance of the store, pulls out his iPhone and walks forward into the jazz hand tunnel, capturing the moment on video.

Then he is ushered back into the store, presumably to await interviews from the media. The parade of employees follows, winding down the stairs to the store floor, whooping and clapping all the way down.

Apple employees whoop and clap on the way to work the store floor.
Credit: Elizabeth de Luna

8:15 a.m. — Standing in the rain, all the way from Spain

I visit with the people in line to demo the Apple Vision Pro. In-person sign ups began this morning for slots every half hour. Alejandro, Pepe, and their group of 19 friends flew in from Spain (the Apple Vision Pro is currently only available in the U.S). The group works for Rossellimac, an Apple distributor in the country, and have made matching vests to commemorate the trip. They arrived around 7:30 a.m. to sign up for a demo, which will start at 9 AM. Some of their friends ahead of them in line took photos with Tim Cook.

“We expect it to be a breakthrough” says Alejandro of the Vision Pro. “I am really optimistic about it,” says Pepe. How do they feel about the price? “We feel sad,” Alejandro says with a laugh.

8:18 a.m. — The reformed Apple fanboy and his girlfriend

NYU students Kevin and Joanna arrived at 7:30. Joanna is here as a supportive partner. “I forced her to wake up early,” says her boyfriend. “It’s fine,” she smiles, “I’m used to it.”

“We wanted to see the launch,” says Kevin, “I think it’s an important milestone for Apple, hopefully for tech in general. So we just wanted to be here in person and try it out.” Is he an Apple fanboy? “I used to be but now I’m a lot calmer,” he says. As a teen in Beijing, “I used to wake up at 2 a.m. to watch WWDC,” he admits.

But Kevin doesn’t expect to buy the Vision Pro after today’s demo. “It’s a first generation product so there are going to be flaws to iron out,” he says. “Maybe in two or three years when the prices come down and the product [experience] is smoother.”

A group from Spain-based Apple distributor Rossellimac pose with the matching vests they made to commemorate their trip to New York for the Apple Vision Pro launch.
Credit: Elizabeth de Luna

8:22 a.m. — “The computer is now in front of your eyes”

I convince two tall, shy looking men leaving the line to talk to me. Sebastian is from Switzerland and Marco is from Germany. They met less than 48 hours ago as part of a small cohort of readers of the German tech publication Heise.

“They think we are crazy,” says Marco of the friends and families he told about the trip. “Apple is usually late to the market but when they do release it, they have thought about it in a clearer and better way than people trying to be early,” says Sebastian, who works in cybersecurity.

They arrived at the store at 7 a.m., have demos at 9:30, and have already ordered the device to pick up tomorrow. “I’m sorry,” he jokes, “I’m not flying out to the U.S. just to demo the product [and not buy it].”

To use the Vision Pro, you need an American Apple ID. Marco made one last week by listing the address of his New York hotel as his billing address.

Later, I follow up with Sebastian about his demo over text. Having tried other VR headsets (though not the Meta Quest Pro), he says he thinks it will be “a challenge for all other players on the market to compete with Apple” when it comes to eye tracking. During his demo, he played around in the Safari, Freeform, AppleTV+, Photos, Mail, iMessage, and NBA apps and said he got the hang of using the device very quickly. But he can’t compare the experience to anything else out there, including using his laptop and watching TV. To fully adopt the potential of the Vision Pro “you need to change the way you use your computer now,” he wrote. “The computer is now in front of your eyes.”

A protest truck outside the Apple store, just to the right of where prospective Apple Vision Pro buyers formed a line.
Credit: Elizabeth de Luna

8:35 a.m. — Visions of a dystopian reality

I notice a protest truck across the street with a large screen that reads, “‘…we are the greatest platform for distributing child porn.’ – Former Apple Executive, February 2020.” Behind the text, a child-sized hand holds a rotting apple. There is no other information included, like the source of the quote or who paid for the truck. No one seems to be paying it any mind.

I ask Luca and his friend Eliza, 18-year-olds from Australia, why they’re interested in a demo. Turns out Luca is a bit of a fan; he’s watched Marques Brownlee’s demos of the Vision Pro and got up in the middle of the night in June of 2023 to watch the live streamed announcement of the product at WWDC. When he heard that his planned vacation to New York overlapped with the release, he decided he’d try it out in person.

“It’s a bit scary because of how advanced it is, especially the eye tracking,” he says of the Vision Pro. “The fact that you can look at something and it’ll know, that’s just crazy to me.” This will be his first time using a headset and he is excited by the idea of immersing himself in it. He mentions the segment of the WWDC presentation in which a woman used the Vision Pro to block out distractions on a plane. He would definitely use it on an airplane but “I may look a bit stupid carrying it on, though,” he laughs.

Eliza accompanied Luca for moral support, but overall feels differently about the whole spectacle. “It was really, like, dystopian, coming in this morning. The [Apple] staff were literally like doing this,” she says, imitating the staff waving their arms around. “And the countdown, to me, that’s very weird. And consumerist. [That’s] something I’ve noticed being in America… People are asleep on the street and then you are, like, in front of the Park Hyatt… We have poverty in Australia but I think it’s just not as shocking, the wealth gap.”

“It’s very extreme,” Luca agrees.

“I think that’s been the most shocking part of this trip, and probably the most memorable part,” Eliza continues. “And then it feels exemplified like being here. Like, everyone who’s here is probably middle class, upper middle class, and then paying such a fortune for these products with such a large profit margin for Apple.”

Apple fan Alex with his Apple Vision Pro.
Credit: Elizabeth de Luna

8:35 a.m. — Dashed hopes can’t keep a true Apple believer down

The last person I speak to is a smiling man named Alex who is practically bouncing his way out of the store. He intends to run home to his apartment and work from the Vision Pro for the rest of the day. He is an Apple fanboy, with an Apple Card, AirPods, iPhone, a Mac, and more. When it comes to the Vision Pro, “It is costly, everything Apple is expensive. But I think it’s justified in that it’s unique. If other products did the same thing, you can’t buy something currently that does the stuff this does.”

Given his love of Apple, I asked if he caught a glimpse of Tim Cook earlier. Alex looks like he’s seen a ghost, “He was here? Are you serious?” Someone overhears us and mentions that Cook is still downstairs. We descend into the store and spot Cook’s signature gray crop of hair and glasses in a crowd in a corner. Alex is practically giddy. “This is a bigger deal than the Vision Pro!” he says to me.

An entire side of the store has been blanketed in a soft carpet. Crescent leather benches have been arranged in groups of four in neighboring circles. On each bench, one person wearing a Vision Pro is seated next to an Apple employee who is providing audio guidance as they demo the device.

Alex and I move through the melee until we’re within three feet of Cook. He is signing Vision Pro boxes, so I hand Alex a pen and, with my brightest smile, ask one of Cook’s handlers if this lovely man who just purchased a Vision Pro can have it signed. She looks at me blankly and turns back to Cook. A store employee with her back to us pointedly extends her arm out to block any further interaction. It turns out, $3,500 will only get you a Vision Pro. Human decency must cost extra.

Alex is riding too high to let the snub ruin his day. “You’ve led me to great things,” he tells me as we say goodbye. “I can’t believe I saw Tim Cook. That was wild.” Outside, the line for demos is empty, and it’s not even 9 a.m.

The post A morning with Apple’s true believers at the launch of Apple Vision Pro from Mashable appeared first on Tom Bettenhausen’s.

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