Apple's 2024 Vision Pro Is Already Getting a Halo of Accessories
The iPhone 15 Pro and AirPods Pro 2 are Vision Pro compatible… but where will the other cutoffs be?
Scott SteinEditor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
ExpertiseVR and AR, gaming, metaverse technologies, wearable tech, tabletsCredentials
Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
Apple's most unknown new product in at least a decade is arriving next year: the $3,500 Vision Pro, a self-contained mixed reality "spatial computer" headset, looks to reinvent where the company goes with its definition of what computing is. But this headset, announced in June, is already accumulating a family of compatible Apple products. The I have one big question: What does this mean for anyone who's considering a Vision Pro next year?
At Apple's latest iPhone launch event, two products arrived with promised Vision Pro interconnections. The iPhone 15 Pro will be able to capture spatial videos with its rear cameras, which are 3D videos viewable on the Vision Pro. And Apple's latest AirPods Pro 2 model, which looks identical to last year's with the exception of a USB-C charging case, is apparently the only Apple headset that can stream lossless spatial audio and work with the Vision Pro.
Many expected a future iPhone model would introduce spatial video recording eventually, but it's a surprise that the Vision Pro needs an entirely new set of AirPods to connect for high-end audio. This seems to leave any existing AirPods owner in the dust.
It's also a reminder that if you're considering the Vision Pro, you may want to wait on buying other Apple products besides the new AirPods Pro 2 and iPhone 15 Pro until we know more about their compatibility.
What devices work best with Vision Pro? It's still TBD
Am I overreacting? I don't know. The Vision Pro technically directly connects only with Macs, not iPhones or iPads. Apple still hasn't demoed how the Vision Pro works to extend the Mac display or how mouse or keyboard connections feel. While developers are getting a chance to work on making Vision Pro apps now, and some already are getting Vision Pro developer kits, it's unknown if particular models of keyboards or mice or Macs will be required for this connection to work well. Will Apple connect over standard Bluetooth or flex in something else?
Some products seem clearer now. The iPhone 15 Pro is the phone pick for anyone who's at all Apple mixed reality curious, not only because it can capture spatial video, but because it has a rear lidar depth sensor similar to what the Vision Pro has. Lidar already helps scan 3D spaces and produce more immersive AR on the iPhone.
Apple still hasn't announced any plans for the Vision Pro and iPhones to directly interact. (For instance, to allow the Vision Pro to use the iPhone as a controller or extend apps from the phone right into mixed reality like Qualcomm's phone-connected glasses already do.) Could it interact more with the Vision Pro at some point? I'd assume so, but sometimes Apple takes its time on changes.
Qualcomm's AR and VR strategy right now is very phone-interconnected (not surprising since Qualcomm focuses on modems and phone chips). Apple's Vision Pro is sidestepping direct phone and watch connections for now, but the spatial video cross-support looks like a first step.
The newest AirPods Pro model with USB-C, while it seems mostly identical in a lot of ways, is also clearly a safe pick for anyone who doesn't already own last year's model and wants to connect to the Vision Pro. It's pretty frustrating, however, for anyone who took the $250 splurge on the Lightning model in the last year.
Other product category unknowns: The Apple Watch and iPad
The Apple Watch is a clear candidate on paper to be a future Vision Pro accessory: the Series 9's new double-tap gesture even feels like a Vision Pro hand-tracking-based interaction. A watch with gesture support, a display and haptic feedback would be great for a Vision Pro spatial computing platform where everything is done with hands and fingers.
And yet, Apple has announced no Watch-to-Vision Pro plans at this point; my guesses are speculative. Will Apple wait until the expected 10th-anniversary "Watch X" to finesse this connection? Again, it makes me think I'd want to wait and see.
I'm wondering the same thing about the iPad, a device Apple hasn't updated yet in 2023. New Pro models expected early next year could have lots of improvements, including OLED displays. Apple hasn't shown off any ways that iPads and the Vision Pro could work together, even though iPads have trackpad and keyboard support just like Macs. Could Apple be waiting to introduce compatibility on a new Pro model next year?
Maybe wait on the Mac too?
I even wonder about the Mac, a product Apple has already clearly stated will work with the Vision Pro. Because I haven't tried a demo of this and Apple hasn't gone into more detail about the relationship -- and on top of that Apple hasn't unveiled any of its expected M3-equipped Macs yet -- I'm a little anxious that those next-gen Macs will also have some extra features up their sleeves that work specifically with the Vision Pro too.
As 2023 ends, I'm a little less clear about Apple's near-future product ecosystem than I've ever been before. And as someone who spends a lot of time exploring the future of AR and VR, I'm already concerned about how well the products I already have will work with the Vision Pro. Of course, the Vision Pro is a standalone device, and Apple has consistently advertised it as a computer that doesn't need anything else to work. But I'm confident Apple's entire product lineup is eventually destined to interconnect with the headset. I just don't know specifically when. And until compatibility details -- like the AirPods Pro 2 with USB-C, and the iPhone 15 Pro -- are announced, it makes me want to wait and see.