Foundation Vocabulary Any new medium inherits from its predecessors. Take, for example, the early days of television, when many shows were effectively radio programs caught on film. The success of the new medium depends on the development of its own vocabulary, which differs from previous models.
In the case of the Vision Pro, the connection to the predecessor couldn't be more obvious. A key part of Apple's content strategy is the ability to run iPadOS apps on the headset. When searching the visionOS App Store, users select content developed specifically for the platform and created for the tablet. This is similar to the approach the company took to create the Mac App Store, which derives from iOS and iPadOS apps.
While 600 is a good number of “optimized” apps for a first-generation product launch, the availability of iPadOS content bolsters what's really needed and gives developers some extra time to build something custom while big names like YouTube waffle on their targets. Regarding the term “optimized”, we are talking about a broad spectrum. That means it's as simple as changing the UX to mirror Vision Pro's hand tracking. It also suggests something more immersive.
I understand if you couldn't make it through last week's 6,000 word review, so here's some TL;DR: Vision Pro lives or dies behind developers. As I noted earlier, the first iPhone was undoubtedly a revolutionary piece of hardware, but it was the iPhone 3G's App Store that broke the industry wide open. At this point we all basically understand that a hardware platform is only as good as its content, and Apple has only really demonstrated how capable its smartphone is by opening it up to developers.
Truly immersive experiences are very much in the minority in the current state of Vision Pro. That's no surprise, really. While the development – to some extent – has been open for months now, I'm sure many parties are waiting for the launch to gauge the real interest of the public and their developers.
This does not mean that the current offering lacks immersion. For one thing, it's big on environments — serving as the kind of immersive desktop wallpaper that puts you on the moon, in the desert, or on the edge of a volcano. Experience Dinosaurs, meanwhile, does a fine job of leveraging the knowledge of the Prehistoric Planet team to create one of Vision Pro's most impressive demos. It's content like this that demonstrates potential for future developers to exploit.
One of the device's initial creative hurdles, however, is where Apple chose to focus its initial push. In my review, I hit on the idea of an “infinite desktop,” a play on the phrase “infinite canvas,” that gets to the heart of the “spatial computing” experience that Tim Cook has been pushing since day one. At its core, Apple sees the device as the next step in a journey that began decades ago with the Mac. For now, it's designed to play nicely with desktops and laptops, but it's easy to imagine a future (should the company hope) Apple's primary PC will be strapped to your face.
This push surprised many at last year's WWDC. I suspect this will turn many fans off. A 360 degree desktop is compelling overall, but it almost feels like a commoditization of the form factor we've been sold as the future of entertainment for decades. A big part of this push is obvious: the first-generation product was $3,500. Enterprises have much deeper pockets than consumers. How do you sell to them?
Training apps are a big part. If a company believes it can save money on employee training, it will happily spend the upfront cost. Rendering is also a component — see apps like JigSpace as an example of real-time 3D modeling. For example, imagine building a 3D render of a car in 3D design software, exporting it, and walking around it. The third important factor is productivity. This is where spatial computing comes in. This means products like Microsoft Word and applications like mind mapping, which have traditionally been constrained by PC displays.
Entertainment is also here, but it feels secondary to visionOS in its current form. Part of the answer can be found in the name of the product. Given Apple's current product line structure, the “Vision Pro” represents the future existence of the “Apple Vision” — that is, a headset priced below $3,500 for consumers. If you know anything about hardware, how well first-generation products absorb R&D costs, as well as small-scale manufacturing. Bleeding-edge components like the 4K eye can weigh heavily on production costs until scale up.
So, you put the product at a premium and you sell it to companies. Games and movies exist because they don't exist. The idea of a “work machine” is not what it was decades ago. The iPhone played a huge role in blurring that line, for better or worse, turning the productivity machine into its own distraction device. If you bring your work laptop on a business trip, there's a good chance you'll be firing up Netflix at some point.
Perhaps Apple will shine more of a spotlight on immersive entertainment in a more accessible version of the product. As it stands, many of the experiences iPadOS apps take advantage of are immersion and hand tracking that can't be replicated in the medium before it. For now, there's a reason the Apple folks don't like calling the Vision Pro “VR.”
This morning, I played a few rounds of Synth Raiders. If the name sounds familiar, it's also available in Meta Quest – a simple enough port. In fact, most first immersive entertainment experiences are this way. If you're already developing for VR, why not tap into this growing market? Synth Raiders is a rhythm game not unlike Rock Band, in which your hands (or controllers in the case of Meta Quest) control two spheres that accumulate points when you move them correctly to the beat of a synthwave track.
To me it was mesmerizing. It's the closest I've come to using a fitness app on a device. This is due to limitations with the headset's weight, price, and that darn battery pack. The Vision Pro isn't designed for you to fly around and sweat profusely. However, this feels like a blind spot for a company that has focused on the space through the Apple Watch and Fitness+ app. Will Apple cut weight and find a more manageable battery solution? Again, most of our Vision Pro conversations focused heavily on the first-generation Hump.
Ultimately, though, broad consumer appeal depends on two key things: 1) lowering the price and 2) content. Both will make or break the mainstream appeal of future devices, and whether Apple recognizes it right now or not, entertainment and fitness will have to play a key role in that journey.