Vision Pro is coming soon; perhaps even in the next month or so!
The months between January and June 2007 were absolutely loaded with excitement and anticipation for the iPhone, and every excuse a tech blogger got to mention it in the title of a post, they did because it would reliably get clicks.
The Vision Pro isn’t getting quite that level of excitement, but I am excited about it nonetheless because it’s not every day that we see Apple make a big bet on a brand new computing platform.
First off, Vision Pro will be a super low-volume product. That isn’t me speculating; it’s fact. Apple’s likely constrained by the fact that only Sony makes the tiny 4K displays that will go into each eyepiece, so the total number of Vision Pros sold in 2024 will likely be less than a million. For comparison, Apple sold about 1.4 million iPhones the year the iPhone was first released.
It’s not that the Vision Pro will be a flop; it’ll probably sell out, but even if it does, this is still a very long game for Apple. This is probably comparable to when Apple started selling the Mac in the 80s, except I’m not even 100% sure that the long term plan is that visionOS is expected to replace other platforms like the Mac eventually was to replace the Apple II at the time.
Spatial Is The Feature
Apple hasn’t positioned Vision Pro with any particular “killer app.” Instead, Vision Pro’s OS is an adapted version of iPadOS. It’s being advertised as a general-purpose computer, but the thing that’s unique about it is that you’re no longer constrained by screen real estate. Instead, your entire field of view is your screen, and you can plop apps down anywhere.
And as someone who has literally 60 apps open in his dock right now (not even kidding), that’s a really exciting paradigm shift. It’ll make using a computer feel far more comfortable, ergonomic, and immersive. I think reviewers are going to dismiss a long list of material issues and limitations and nonetheless talk about how amazing it felt to put on that headset.
But there’s a big ass catch: visionOS is based on iPadOS.
iPadOS has spent its entire existence failing to live up to its potential. Before the iPad was announced in 2010, people anticipated all sorts of cool new concepts like having multiple apps open at once, a more sophisticated home screen, new gestures and other interaction primitives, and having an answer to the question “surely you aren’t just going to dump a big keyboard on the touch screen, right?” And Apple shied away from every single one of those challenges, instead letting the iPad’s larger screen size speak for itself and allow for different use cases.
But iPadOS has matured. We’ve seen two major leaps forward in the past four years: 1) iPad adding cursor support in iPadOS 13.4 which, combined with the Magic Keyboard, makes the iPad look an awful lot like a regular computer, and 2) Stage Manager, a new UI mode where the iPad is even more desktop-like, with multiple windows on screen at once (and proper support for an extra display).
But iPadOS has evolved at a glacial pace. It gives me serious doubt that visionOS, its derivative, will gain the sophistication for the Vision Pro to be a proper workstation.
Even if Vision Pro’s UI evolved rapidly and got rid of all these interface limitations, we’re still stuck with a deeper fundamental problem, which is that everything is sandboxed and you aren’t even allowed to install your own apps onto it.
My Killer App: Mac Virtual Display
I literally am buying the Vision Pro for one and exactly one use case: to use as a virtual display with my Mac.
I’m sure I’ll play around with some of the other apps too, but I am particularly excited about the prospect of being able to sit in my hammock chair or my couch and use a virtual 4K display (and in the future, possibly more than one virtual 4K display), getting the feel of being at a proper desk even when I’m not at a proper desk.
This is a long shot hope, but one evolution of this feature that I would love to see is for future versions of macOS to natively run with visionOS so that Mac apps aren’t just running inside of a fake screen in its own window, but rather they’re able to be displayed independently alongside other visionOS apps.
I continue to stand by what I said before WWDC: Vision Pro is a long shot. Seeing what they announced at WWDC affirmed my stance that this is a long shot. I’m not even certain that the Vision Pro form factor is the actual form that Apple’s imagining for its spatial computing vision, but they’re nonetheless carrying forward with an initial product.
This is a product that probably will need years before it even sees a price point that puts it within reach of mainstream users (probably the $2000 threshold). And even once it hits a price point that mainstream users can stomach, it’s still not clear to me whether most people want it.
Also, Apple needs visionOS to have a vibrant ecosystem of apps, which will be an uphill battle for a device they sell in small quantities. Developers were happy to put up with Apple’s bullshit in 2008 and 2009 because they got access to a massive market in exchange for that bullshit. Nowadays, even though there are billions of iOS devices, developers struggle to make money.
But “long shot” doesn’t mean “doomed to failure,” and I think Apple does its most interesting stuff in situations like this where their success isn’t guaranteed and they have to work to prove themselves.