The Apple Vision Pro presents a view of a lonely future

The year is 2025. I’m sitting on the couch next to my husband, who appears in my field of vision whenever we talk to each other. When we aren’t talking, he fades out of view so I can focus my attention on the screens in front of me. I’m editing a presentation for work, FaceTiming with my family across the country, learning Spanish, and watching cooking demos on YouTube at the same time.

I get a notification — it’s time for my daily meditation. The screens darken, and the room around me fades away completely so I can focus on a calming animation and count my breaths. When I’m done, the session is automatically logged in my journal, along with my daily mood: pleasant. Just like yesterday. The FaceTime call comes back into focus just as my family members’ photorealistic personas are laughing at something funny my mom said. I’m not sure what it was, but my avatar laughs along with theirs anyway.

This vision of the future might not be exactly the one that Apple is trying to sell us with its new headset, but I don’t think it’s far off. The Vision Pro is a $3,500 screen for one person: you and you only. Maybe it’s the future of the iPhone. Maybe it will usher in a blissful utopia where we are all tuned into our surroundings as much or as little as we would like to be. Maybe it’s a really expensive way to look dumb in the comfort of your own home. But I think there’s one thing that’s for sure: it looks lonely as hell.

By design, Vision Pro puts you at the center of a little screen-filled universe.Image: Apple

Exactly what the Vision Pro is and what it’s designed to do has been extremely well documented over the past 48 hours, but in case you missed it, here’s the synopsis: Vision Pro is a state-of-the-art pair of goggles that puts a screen on your face. It’s mostly a VR headset, even though Apple is allergic to saying VR, with some augmented reality elements woven in. It captures the world outside the headset with outward-facing cameras, and it will show you more or less of it as needed. If it recognizes that you’re talking to someone, they’ll come into view. If you want to tune out and watch a movie on your flight, the real world will fade away.

Apple very much wants us to believe that we can participate in the “real world” while wearing the headset. The company is heavily emphasizing the Vision Pro’s augmented reality capabilities, and there’s even a physical dial to control how much of the real world you see at any time. There’s also an external display so anyone else in the room can see your eyes rather than a big black box on your face. And in the keynote, Apple highlighted a parent using the headset in their kitchen with a child playing nearby. The kid kicks a soccer ball toward the headset wearer, and he kicks it right back without missing a beat. See? Nothing to worry about! You can do five things on your headset and be an engaged parent all at once!

See? You can still parent and wear your goofy headset.Image: Apple

But even though it’s not supposed to totally take you out of reality, by design, it puts you at the center of your own little screen-filled world. That’s an inherently more isolated experience than interacting with a 6-inch screen that you hold in your hand. How do you show someone a funny TikTok you just watched in your headset? How do you watch a cute video you took of your kid with your spouse? How do you show everyone on your FaceTime call that your cat just jumped into your lap? Won’t Apple please think of the pet moments we’re going to miss?

Putting a screen on your head when you want to zone out and watch Netflix is one thing, but Apple’s not selling this as just a screen for your face. You’re supposed to be able to walk around your home, grab a drink from the fridge, and interact with your spouse while you wear it. In fact, Apple’s promotional video portrays it almost exclusively as something you wear at home alone.

And take FaceTime, one of the big use cases. Apple’s pitch is that it’ll make it seem like the people you’re talking to are right there in the room with you. But they don’t see you exactly — they see a photorealistic representation of you as you talk, built from a scan of your face taken with the headset. I have a very hard time understanding how I’m supposed to feel closer while FaceTiming my family across the country when they can’t even see my actual face.

To be clear, I don’t want to declare this product — which is still many months away from shipping — a disaster for society or anything like that. Even if it takes off, nobody’s going to come to my house and replace my iPhone with a headset overnight. It’s very easy to opt out of this whole experience simply by not spending $3,500 on a headset. 

But I also can’t help noticing the juxtaposition between the Vision Pro and its very self-centered nature and Apple’s simultaneous push for better tools to manage mental health. In the very same keynote that it announced the Vision Pro, Apple revealed a couple of new features for iOS 17 to help people understand their own emotions and moods. You’ll be able to log your daily mood and moment-to-moment emotions in the Health app, and you’ll also be able to access a standard survey that health professionals use to screen for depression and anxiety. 

There’s also a new journaling app, which can automatically prompt you to stop, reflect, and write a journal entry based on things you’ve recently photographed or places you’ve been. It’s probably not a bad thing to take a break from the constant pressure to share your photos, videos, and thoughts with the world and just write something for yourself. 

How hard will it be to peel yourself away from TikTok when you’re actually wearing the screen?

And not to be forgotten, Apple has spent years building features designed to help you keep track of and minimize your screen time. If we already have a hard time putting our phones down, how hard will it be to peel yourself away from TikTok when you’re actually wearing the screen? Apple is willing to outfit us with a few flimsy tools to help us keep healthy relationships with our phones, but it’s also willing to sell you a screen to literally keep strapped to your face.

There’s every chance that the Vision Pro will flop and we’ll just keep happily (and unhappily) using our pocket screens for the rest of time. But Apple is a company with tremendous power to shape how we interact with technology and the track record to prove it. When it releases a product in a new category, it’s reasonable to wonder if that thing represents some version of the future — how we interact with each other and how we relate to ourselves. And if Apple’s Vision Pro is indeed a significant part of that future, then I won’t be surprised if it feels a little bit lonelier.