Why you need a VPN for the Vision Pro (and other XR headsets).

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VPN

Screenshot by David Gewurtz/ZDNet

Before you think I’m being weirdly paranoid, or that I’m one of those people who demands a VPN for everything, think again. There is a very compelling use case for VPNs in mixed-reality headsets.

Also: 10 Reasons Apple Vision Pro Is Secretly Brilliant

In this article, I’ll talk about those use cases — and why VPNs are so important in that context. Finally, I’ll share some thoughts on getting a VPN to work on your beloved Facebook.

Killer App for XR (2024 Version)

For our sanity, let’s first explain some terminology. This market segment goes by many names, including AR, VR, mixed reality, XR, and Apple’s new happy place — spatial reality. In this article, I’m just going to call all those XRs.

XR has been with us for years, even decades. I tried a virtual simulator of a fighter jet in the early 1990s (I got shot down, and had to sit for an hour before it was safe to drive). Today’s VR headsets are much better. I found Meta Quest 3 very easy to tolerate, and the Apple Vision Pro has been universally praised as visually stunning by everyone who’s used it.

But a big question remains: without a game platform or an innovation, are these things good? What are they actually for? What is the universal killer app? Is it worth the rush to buy one to solve a RR (realistic reality) problem?

Answer: Traveling and living or working in a restricted area.

Also: Meet Apple’s Vision Pro: Price, Features, Hands-On Insights and More

Both MetaQuest 3 and Vision Pro let you work on a virtual desktop as big as you want, even if you’re sitting in the coach of an airplane. Both the Quest 3 and Vision Pro let you watch movies and TV as if you were looking at a 90-inch TV, even if you’re tucked into the bottom bunk of a ship’s crew quarters, living out of an RV, or cross-country in a Ford Escape and working from a hotel lobby. While fleeing a devastating hurricane.

Yes, that last example was my experience in 2017, and the Quest 3 or Vision Pro would have made my life so much easier. I had to work every night after the trip, and we had very little space to set up. But my work often requires me to have multiple screens, so I can refer to a lot of source information, and it often makes me scream on a single laptop screen.

Also: Best VPN Services: Expert Tested and Reviewed

Of course, XR has many other uses. ZDNET Editor-in-Chief Jason Hiner loves the Quest 3 for its workout capabilities. There are potential training opportunities using XR and XR can even be used as a form Therapy to help treat mental illness.

But my premise in this article is that XR is the first killer app for this class of computing to use when traveling or living in a small space.

The obvious need for a VPN

So if we agree that a killer app for XR in 2024 is travel computing, then a VPN is an obvious necessity. If you’re not familiar with VPNs, here’s a full explainer

Also: Vision Pro: 9 Reasons People Give to Order $3,500 Headset

The problem with traveling is that you’re usually dependent on Wi-Fi wherever you are. Unlike at home, where you control the router and service provider of your choice (within the range available in your area), when traveling you are at the complete mercy of whatever (usually) inadequate routers are provided by hotels, restaurants. Airports, or community access points.

Worse, these connections are often shared, and there’s a fair chance that someone could try to intercept your Internet traffic (including personal identifying information and financial data).

The primary protection for those who need to travel and go online is to use a VPN to encrypt traffic as it leaves your computing device. Some companies want their employees to connect to their corporate network via VPN, for the same reason.

How to use a VPN with an XR headset

I searched all the usual VPN providers, and none of the usual suspects had any clear mention of XR devices where they provide support. This will likely change in the coming years.

That said, Apple Vision Pro has a setting for VPN in its settings menu. I don’t have Vision Pro, but I ran the Vision Pro simulator in Xcode and found the menu item shown in the screenshot at the top of this article.

In some ways, this makes sense. The Vision Pro is pretty much a glorified iPad. VisionOS is what you get when you have iPadOS and Snow White’s Magic Mirror. Both iOS and iPadOS have built-in VPN modules and hooks for third-party products such as NordVPN, IPvanishAnd ExpressVPN (Three of the VPNs our editorial team rated highest).

Also: Best Travel VPNs of 2024

Since I don’t have Vision Pro here, I can’t dive into that menu item in any depth. The simulator simply lists VPN and Device Management under the General tab, but clicking on it does nothing.

Stay tuned. Given that there is already a VPN section, I hope this support will be available soon

As for other headsets like the Meta Quest 3, they get the same operating system-parentage benefits as the Vision Pro, except in this case Android’s OS. The Meta Quest 3 is a glorious Android device, and its settings menus are very reminiscent of Android. Other Android-based XR devices included Quest 2The HTC Vive FocusAnd take picoAmong others.

I searched the meta app store for VPN apps and couldn’t find any However, I found out A YouTube video showing how to side-load a VPN in Meta Quest 3.

Be careful, though. A YouTuber, who identifies himself simply as Virtual Dude, recommends using a free VPN I don’t. VPNs are expensive to maintain. If a VPN is free, the company behind it is making up the costs somehow — and probably from your data.

Also: Who’s Afraid of VR? I was – until I tried Meta Quest 3

He recommends side-loading an app that allows sideloading Android apps into the Quest 3. His big caveat is not to panic when the screen goes black and quests crash. This is probably a valid warning, but you’re definitely walking on the wild side here.

That said, Virtual Dude’s video constitutes a definitive proof of concept that VPNs can work on XR devices like the Quest.

Give it some time

Right now, VPNs aren’t quite ready for prime time on XR devices. But given the use case, and with low-cost units exploding off the shelves during the holiday season, there’s clearly a business case for VPN vendors to support at least the most successful XR platforms.

But we are not there yet. With the possible exception of what’s behind the VPN and Device Management menus on the Physical Vision Pro unit, there’s no sign of supported VPN operations on the XR platform.

Also: Inside VisionOS: 18 things developers need to know about coding for Apple Vision Pro

Thing is, since both the Vision Pro and Android-based XR devices are using popular and well-supported operating systems, ports of the XR versions of those systems probably won’t be that expensive for vendors.

And you know how sellers are when it comes to low cost and big opportunities. That’s like catnip. There will no doubt be action in this space soon, and you can count on us to update you when it happens.

Now it’s my turn to ask you some questions: Do you have an XR headset? Have you shelled out big bucks for a Vision Pro? What are your big use cases? Are you planning to travel with the XR device? Do you have any experience with VPN on XR device yet? Let us know in the comments below.


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