With Apple’s $3,500 headsets out in the wild, new social norms apply

Yam Olisker walking around in New York wearing Apple’s new mixed-reality headset, the Vision Pro.
Yam Olisker walking around in New York wearing Apple’s new mixed-reality headset, the Vision Pro.

Summary

Apple Vision Pro early adopters navigate a world of curiosity and interruptions.

Yam Olisker was walking around New York City’s Times Square getting stares and questions from strangers. That can happen when you have a $3,500 hunk of tech strapped to your face.

Olisker was wearing Apple’s new Vision Pro, the mixed-reality headset that looks like giant silver ski goggles. Yes, even in bustling Times Square—among naked cowboys, costumed Spidermen hustling for tips for selfie pics, evangelists shouting Scripture about the end of the world, and out-of-towners trying to follow janky directional apps to the next performance of “The Lion King"—the Vision Pro stood out.

A few passerby asked Olisker to tell them how many fingers they were holding up. “They didn’t believe that I could see them," says Olisker, 19, who had flown from Israel to buy the device.

Call it the curse of being first.

Since the Vision Pro went on sale, early adopters taking them into the wild have been gawked at and judged for covering their eyes and about half their faces—when they could be, well, avoiding eye contact with other humans the normal way, by staring at their phones.

The Vision Pro is one of Apple’s first major product launches in years. It does what a phone or laptop can do—send emails and show movies—but tracks your eye and hand movements when you want to click on an app or write something down.

The questions from strangers are reminiscent of when the first iPhone came out. How do you type with no buttons? Or when AirPods took over the streets: Is that person talking to themselves?

Apple, which first unveiled the Vision Pro in June, calls it revolutionary—its first product you look through and not at.

Ben Parr, a tech entrepreneur and investor, says he’s worn his Vision Pro on a plane and in a hotel lobby, using it for work. A dozen people have asked to wear it, he says.

“They definitely ooh and ah when they see the screen and can see everybody around them," he says. “In general though, I’m only going to let friends do it moving forward."

When he recently dined at a hot pot restaurant with friends, the waiters and bussers there asked what was strapped on his face.

He even had a few bites with the Vision Pro on. “You can do it, but it is close to the nose," says the 38-year-old from Los Angeles. Beverages are trickier: “Would recommend a straw for anyone wanting to drink while using a Vision Pro."

Nikias Molina, who traveled from Barcelona to buy the device, wore his Vision Pro in a crowded New York City subway while typing in the air on a keyboard only he could see. Other riders were looking down and didn’t seem to notice or care, but not so on Molina’s flight home to Spain, where he was the in-flight entertainment of sorts.

The passenger sitting next to him asked so many questions, Molina worried the man would ask to try on his headset.

“I don’t want to be sharing," says the 25-year-old YouTuber, citing germs and the high cost of the device.

Molina also noticed one flight attendant kept eyeballing him while he was wearing the headset over his eyes and was trying to watch the Disney movie “Luca."

“She thought I couldn’t see her," says Molina. “People are just curious."

Others say they are turned off by seeing people walking around in public looking like they are about to ski down a black-diamond at Telluride.

Jonah Rothman recently went to Boston’s TD Garden to catch a basketball game, and saw a man in the front row wearing the Vision Pro during the game. “If I paid for courtside seats, I would not put a device on my head," says Rothman, a 19-year-old college student in Boston.

Part of being an early adopter is figuring out what exactly to use it for.

Dante Lentini strapped on his new headset and put his Tesla Model Y into autopilot. In a video posted on X, the 21-year-old Lentini can be seen heading down the road, fully immersed in the augmented-reality aspects of Apple’s new device while his Tesla does the driving.

“It was so, so futuristic and dystopian," Lentini recalls. “I couldn’t believe it with my own eyes."

Many people responded angrily to the video, however, saying Lentini was probably distracted while behind the wheel. He later said the video was a skit.

“We were thinking, ‘We just spent $3,500 on this thing. We got to try to make some money off of it,’" Lentini says. “We’re always looking for things to go viral, so we were thinking, ‘What crazy things could we do with this?’"

Even those who live on tech’s cutting edge are still figuring out how to politely interact with those still stuck in reality.

Anshel Sag, a 34-year-old tech analyst in San Diego, says his 1-month old daughter had fallen asleep on his chest when he came up with an idea. “I asked my wife to bring over my headset," he says.

He watched about 30 minutes of “Avatar: The Way of Water" as his baby napped, blissfully unable to hear the noise from the movie.

Yet, he’s considered but held off bringing his Vision Pro headset into the bedroom. “It feels a little bit isolating for my partner," he says.

His wife, Talia Sag, says she wouldn’t mind.

“We don’t always have the same taste in shows," says Sag, 30, who owns a snack-food business. “That would be a nice way to spend time together while he can watch whatever he wants."

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