When Apple unveiled the Vision Pro virtual reality goggles last year at a technology conference, many in the audience gasped at the price: $3,500. That’s more than quadruple the cost of a new iPhone and 14 times the cost of a competing headset from Meta.
The headset, which Apple has marketed as a computer, movie player and gaming machine, will arrive in stores on Friday. Ahead of its release, the discussion has focused on its price: Many have wondered why people would pay so much to do what they could already do with their computers, TVs and game consoles.
Yet the true cost of owning the Vision Pro is probably even higher. Try $4,600. That’s because the price shoots up with the add-ons and accessories that many people would want to buy, including:
Apple’s $200 carrying case to protect the Vision Pro on the go.
A pair of earphones, such as Apple’s $180 AirPods, to listen to music privately.
A spare $200 battery pack to get more use from 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 use glasses.
A spare $200 cushion to make the goggles fit another member of the family.
An additional $200 for the larger data storage option (512 gigabytes instead of the 256 gigs on the base model) to hold more videos and apps on the device.
And those are just the extras that many consider must-haves. 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 well above $5,000 — before tax.
While I have your attention with these breathtaking numbers, we can all learn a valuable lesson from the Vision Pro about “phantom costs,” the add-ons that significantly inflate the amount we spend. For electronics, including smartphones, computers and virtual reality headsets, they can include cases and charging gadgets.
A clear grasp of the true cost of tech ownership is crucial for any consumers trying to stay in control of their budget, said Ramit Sethi, a personal finance adviser. He said he had 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 true cost ended up $1,000 a month after he added up maintenance, insurance, gas, parking and tolls.
“Companies count on you not being able to run the math,” said Mr. Sethi, who hosts a podcast on money psychology. “The bigger the purchase, the more money you invisibly spend.”
These lessons apply to any tech products we regularly use, not just Apple hardware. Let’s run through 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 some extras are added in the Microsoft store, it’s more realistically a $1,950 laptop — nearly double the sticker price.
The extras include:
$500 for more memory.
A pair of earphones, such as Microsoft’s $250 headphones.
$200 for the Microsoft dock that charges the laptop and connects it to an external display.
Here, the biggest phantom cost is memory, which is important for helping the computer smoothly run multiple apps at the same time. Typically, computer makers sell their base models with a modest amount of memory that isn’t likely to be enough to keep the computer running fast for many years, so it’s wise to buy the model with extra memory.
The $1,000 base model of the Surface Laptop 5 comes with only eight gigabytes of memory, but most people are likely to need double that to smoothly run the latest Windows operating system and new apps and games. The model that includes 16 gigabytes costs an extra $500.
Samsung’s new high-end smartphone, the Galaxy S24 Ultra, has a starting price of $1,300. But it’s more realistically a $1,540 phone.
In the last five years, many smartphone makers, including Apple, Google and Samsung, stopped shipping phones with basic accessories like earphones and charging bricks, a shift that increased their profit margins. And in an echo of the way computer makers upsell memory, the base model of a smartphone typically includes a modest amount of data storage that isn’t likely to be enough to hold your photos, videos and apps for the long haul.
First, a quick aside on storage. An average photo takes up five megabytes, according to Samsung. So shooting 3,000 photos would take up roughly 15 gigabytes. 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 about a gigabyte. Long story short, data storage can run out fast, so why get 256 gigabytes when you could spend about $100 more for double that?
Unless you already own accessories to work with your new phone, you’ll have to tack on these extras:
$30 for the Samsung charging brick.
$40 for a Samsung protective case.
$50 for the Samsung wireless earbuds.
An extra $120 to get 512 gigabytes to hold more photos and apps. (As of this writing, this data upgrade is free for a limited-time promotion.)
That’s not including the cost of using the phone with a modest wireless phone plan for, say, $70 a month. With wireless service included, the cost of owning this Samsung phone over three years is about $112.77 a month, or $4,060 total.
The point is not to shame people about buying tech, but to raise awareness of what we’re actually spending on new gadgets, which is a lot more than we think, Mr. 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 just from the devices but from the many extras they bought for them along the way.
For comparison purposes, the examples above showed the costs of extras like headphones and cases if you bought them directly from the device makers. A simple method to save money would be to shop around for cheaper third-party alternatives, but the purchases would still nonetheless be phantom costs that drove up the overall price of your tech.
This all brings us to the biggest phantom cost of regularly buying products like new phones and Apple’s Vision Pro: the price you pay for being an early adopter.
“The more you buy a new phone, the more the people around you expect you to have the newest thing, and the more you create an identity that you always have the newest thing,” Mr. Sethi said. “That’s the biggest phantom cost of all.”