Apple Vision Pro’s controller-free approach may be catching on with other headsets

Apple Vision Pro hand control gestures
(Image credit: Apple)

Apple Vision Pro may be dominating the headlines when it comes to the best VR headsets, but it's not the only one out there. And it may be sparking a revolution in virtual reality that ensures it won’t be the only headset to ditch controllers.

According to UploadVR, Pico — makers of the Pico 4 VR headset — has signaled to developers that it’s beginning its transition to a hand-tracking-based future. A source familiar with the Chinese VR headset manufacturer’s plans told the outlet that ByteDance-owned Pico is now shifting funding away from developers that only allow for controller support. That funding will now instead go to developers that support hand tracking and controllers or just hand-tracking.

For its part, ByteDance seemed more open to keeping controllers in the mix. In an email to UploadVR, ByteDance Games Operations Manager Wenyue (Vayne) Lv said that while ByteDance will encourage developers to use hand tracking, it wants users to still enjoy games that require a controller.

Controller vs hand tracking is a battle reminiscent of VHS vs Betamax

Hand tracking is — for most — probably the platonic ideal for engaging in virtual reality. Ditching the bulky controllers adds a level of immersion to the experience and removes another accessory that you need to keep charged.

Of course, the problem is that it requires a lot of hardware to be done at all, and even then it’s not the easiest thing. While the Apple Vision Pro is ditching controllers for hand tracking, it also has 12 cameras, six microphones and five sensors as part of its spec sheet. And that’s part of why it will cost a whopping $3,499.

If more headsets like the Pico 4 decide to follow Apple’s example and ditch controllers, controllers may quietly be dying a slow but inevitable death.

That’s not to say it’s impossible that one day every headset could be mostly reliant on hand tracking, with controllers as an option rather than a requirement. The Meta Quest 2 allows some hand-tracking thanks to updates, and the new Meta Quest 3 should be able to handle significantly more thanks to its front visor array of sensors and cameras. But the Quest 3 is also still coming with (newly redesigned) controllers, which indicates that having to use a peripheral for VR gaming and experiences isn’t going away soon.

Still, if more headsets like the Pico 4 decide to follow Apple’s example and ditch controllers, controllers may quietly be dying a slow but inevitable death. Time will tell how much Apple’s entry into the still relatively nascent VR market will impact standards in the industry.

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Malcolm McMillan
Senior Streaming Writer

Malcolm McMillan is a senior writer for Tom's Guide, covering all the latest in streaming TV shows and movies. That means news, analysis, recommendations, reviews and more for just about anything you can watch, including sports! If it can be seen on a screen, he can write about it. Previously, Malcolm had been a staff writer for Tom's Guide for over a year, with a focus on artificial intelligence (AI), A/V tech and VR headsets.

Before writing for Tom's Guide, Malcolm worked as a fantasy football analyst writing for several sites and also had a brief stint working for Microsoft selling laptops, Xbox products and even the ill-fated Windows phone. He is passionate about video games and sports, though both cause him to yell at the TV frequently. He proudly sports many tattoos, including an Arsenal tattoo, in honor of the team that causes him to yell at the TV the most.