Some Feelings About Apple Vision Pro

January 18, 2024

Preorders for Apple Vision Pro start tomorrow. I’ve been thinking about this product at least since the LiDAR Scanner appeared on the 2020 iPad Pro. Strangely, as we’ve gotten closer to the launch, I’ve become less interested in it.

Some ancient history to set the stage. In the early 90s, I got to try Dactyl Nightmare. I remember having to beg my parents for the try the thing, waiting in a long line, and only getting to play for a few minutes. It was amazing! I only vaguely remember the experience, but that low-poly world felt real in a way I could barely put into words.

Fast forward to October 2013: I got to try the Oculus Rift developer kit. I was at a conference where a company was showing off a Paperboy-like prototype using the dev kit and a Microsoft Kinect. It was a bit janky, but still a very cool experience. For whatever reason, it didn’t feel as immersive as I remember that clunky-assed 90s game being. Maybe it had something to do with Dactyl Nightmare being over-hyped by my very young brain. It probably wasn’t helped by the demo being something thrown together quickly for the conference. Also, I was definitely older and more jaded. Whatever the reason, it didn’t seem as magical to me.

More recently I’ve had occasion to try newer headsets from Oculus and Valve. These are great pieces of technology, and I’m glad people are continuing to work on them. But as cool as some of VR experiences were, I could never bring myself to buy a headset. I continue to feel pretty sure that if I did buy one, it would start gathering dust after a week or two. Gaming on a TV is easier and, frankly, more fun. If I could go back in time and tell this to my 90’s self, the little guy’s head would explode. All this to say: I think VR tech is interesting, but I’m not very excited by it.

Back to the present: Apple’s launching a new piece of hardware tomorrow. I really like Apple hardware, and follow their announcements like other people follow sporting events. I want to be more excited about this than I am.

One thing to note here: I’ve only really considered the “headset” space in the context of gaming. Apple has never been good at gaming. Recently they’ve been making motions toward getting serious about the gaming space, but they’ve got a lot of convincing to do. This might just be a “me problem”, as I’m not sure the primary purpose of Vision Pro has ever been gaming related.

But if not gaming, then what? “Spatial computing” seems to be the idea Apple is pushing. One piece of this is having an “infinite canvas for apps”. That actually sounds pretty promising! However, I’m quite skeptical Vision Pro will have many apps I want to use out of the gate. When Apple launched the M1, it enabled iPhone and iPad apps to run in macOS. Sadly, for a variety of reasons, most developers chose to disable their apps from being run this way. A big reason for this was that most devs didn’t have M1 machines yet. They couldn’t confirm the mobile versions of their app would work well on macOS. I’d bet pretty heavily that the same thing will happen for visionOS.

Another selling point of Vision Pro is immersive video. This is something I’ve definitely wanted at points, and I could imagine it being a huge boon for people who fly a lot. But that’s going to be hurt by Netflix and YouTube both choosing not to release apps for the platform yet.

Of course, the position of the product at launch isn’t the whole story. The iPhone was world-changing device, but it didn’t really do much at launch. There was no App Store. You couldn’t record video. Heck, there wasn’t even copy and paste. It was still incredibly novel, but it only existed on one mobile carrier and it cost several times more than what most people thought a phone should. The same is true for the Apple Watch. In both cases, I got the third iteration and continued to use them going forward.

People who’ve had a chance to try Vision Pro seem to think there’s something there. Maybe not enough to justify the current price tag, but it seems like there’s something. Just like when Apple launched their watch, there seems to be a bit of throwing things at the wall to see what sticks. Because of this, the meme is that Vision Pro is a “public dev kit”. But as someone who helps people build software products, advice I always give to clients is: get things into the hands of users as soon as possible. It’s the very best way to see if you’re on the right track. Apple has a great track record for building extremely polished hardware, but the software always takes large turns after version 1.0. I think people forget this.

The one thing I am really excited about regarding Vision Pro is the story. Apple’s doing something different here. Maybe it’s not for me. Maybe it’s just not for me yet. Maybe I’ll try one (once they’re available in the far-flung land of Canada) and I’ll buy one on the spot. Whatever the case, I’m pretty sure they’re going to sell out of initial stock on day one. What comes next will be a lot of hot takes, and I’ll be here for all of them. If this thing takes off, that will be interesting! If Apple has a dud, that will also be very interesting! Let’s see what people say once they start shipping out. I’m excited for all temperatures of take.