When Apple unveiled the Vision Pro virtual reality glasses last year at a technology conference, many in attendance were stunned by the price: $3,500. That’s more than four times the cost of a new iPhone and 14 times the cost of a competing headset from Meta.
The headset, which Apple marketed as a computer, video player and gaming machine, will hit stores Friday. Before its release, discussion focused on its price: many wondered why people would pay so much to do what they could already do with their computers, televisions, and game consoles.
Yet the real cost of owning the Vision Pro is likely even higher. Try $4,600. Indeed, the price climbs with add-ons and accessories that many people would like to purchase, including:
Apple’s $200 carrying case to protect the Vision Pro on the go.
A pair of headphones, like the $180 Apple AirPods, to listen to music privately.
A $200 replacement battery to get better use of the headset (because with only two hours of battery life, the headset won’t last long enough to play a feature-length movie).
$100 prescription lens inserts for those who wear glasses.
A $200 replacement pad to make the glasses fit another family member.
$200 extra for the larger data storage option (512GB instead of the 256GB on the base model) to fit more videos and apps on the device.
And those are just the extras that many consider essential. Other options, including Apple’s $500 extended warranty coverage, a $70 video game controller, and a very uncool $50 battery holder to clip onto your pants, could drive the price up well above $5,000 – before taxes.
While I grab your attention with these eye-popping numbers, we can all learn a valuable lesson from Vision Pro about “phantom costs,” add-ons that dramatically inflate the amount we spend. For electronic devices, including smartphones, computers, and virtual reality headsets, they can include charging cases and gadgets.
A clear understanding of the true cost of owning technology is crucial for any consumer trying to stay on top of their budget, said personal finance advisor Ramit Sethi. He said he learned about phantom costs when he bought a Honda Accord about 20 years ago. He initially thought he was spending $350 a month on the car to pay off his loan. The actual cost came to $1,000 per month after adding in maintenance, insurance, gas, parking and tolls.
“Companies are counting on you not being able to do the math,” said Mr. Sethi, who hosts a podcast on the psychology of money. “The bigger the purchase, the more money you spend invisibly.”
These lessons apply to all the tech products we use regularly, not just Apple hardware. Let’s review the phantom costs of a Windows computer and a Samsung phone.
Microsoft sells its Surface Laptop 5 at a starting retail price of $1,000. But after adding a few extras from the Microsoft Store, it’s more realistically a $1,950 laptop, nearly double the sticker price.
$500 for more memory.
A pair of headphones, like the $250 Microsoft headphones.
$200 for the Microsoft dock that charges the laptop and connects it to an external display.
The biggest phantom cost here is memory, which is important in helping the computer run multiple applications at the same time. Typically, computer manufacturers sell their base models with a modest amount of memory that likely won’t be enough to keep the computer running quickly for many years. So it is wise to buy the model with extra memory.
The base model of the Surface Laptop 5, at $1,000, has just eight GB of memory, but most users will likely need double that to smoothly run the latest Windows operating system and new apps and games. The model that includes 16 GB costs $500 more.
Samsung’s new high-end smartphone, the Galaxy S24 Ultra, has a starting price of $1,300. But more realistically, this is a $1,540 phone.
Over the past five years, many smartphone makers, including Apple, Google and Samsung, have stopped shipping phones with basic accessories like earbuds and charging pads, increasing their profit margins. And echoing the way computer manufacturers sell memory, the base model of a smartphone typically includes a modest amount of data storage that likely won’t be enough to keep your photos, videos, and apps on the device. long term.
First, a quick aside on storage. A photo takes up an average of five megabytes, according to Samsung. So taking 3,000 photos would take up around 15 GB. Popular mobile games like Fortnite and Final Fantasy VII: Ever Crisis gobble up dozens of gigabytes. On Netflix, each hour of video downloaded for offline viewing takes up approximately one gigabyte. Long story short, data storage can run out quickly, so why get 256GB when you could spend around $100 more for double that?
Unless you already own accessories to work with your new phone, you’ll need to add these extras:
$30 for the Samsung Charging Brick.
$40 for a Samsung protective case.
$50 for Samsung Wireless Earbuds.
An extra $120 to get 512GB to hold more photos and apps. (As of this writing, this data upgrade is free for a limited-time promotion.)
That doesn’t include the cost of using the phone with a modest wireless phone plan, say $70 per month. With wireless service included, the cost of owning this Samsung phone over three years is approximately $112.77 per month, or $4,060 total.
It’s not about shaming people for buying technology, but about making people aware of how much we actually spend on new gadgets, which is much more than we think, Sethi said. That’s why the best practice for most people buying tech products is to hold on to them for as long as they can. This way, they maximize the value they get not only from the devices, but also from the many extras they purchased along the way.
For comparison purposes, the examples above show the costs of extras like headphones and cases if you buy them directly from the device manufacturers. A simple method to save money would be to look for cheaper third-party alternatives, but the purchases would still be phantom costs that would drive up the overall price of your technology.
All of which brings us to the biggest phantom cost of regularly purchasing products like new phones and Apple’s Vision Pro: the price you pay to be an early adopter.
“The more you buy a new phone, the more people around you expect you to have the new thing, and the more you create an identity that you always have the new thing,” Mr. Sethi said. “It’s the biggest phantom cost of all.”