As I’ve been using Vision Pro and figuring out its strengths and shortcomings, I find myself trying to understand its place in the world once it evolves.
Thinking about Vision Pro as a computing platform, it feels much more iPad-like than Mac-like. The eye and hand tracking input mechanism feels like touch input, but adapted to being able to be in 3D space. But much like how the iPhone’s and iPad’s touch input mechanisms are in some ways limited compared to the precision and speed you get with a mouse and keyboard, Vision Pro’s eye tracking input feels like a limited version of iPad’s touch input. Even assuming all the accuracy issues get ironed out, tracking my eyes and fingers is still a much slower interaction mechanism.
As I’ve used Vision Pro more this week, my leisurely use of it has had it replacing my iPad or iPhone a lot, because as a casual computing device, it’s a supercharged version of iPad (and I understand what a weird comparison that is given how different the two devices look). It’s immersive and personal, but you’re not constrained by the relatively small screen size of iPad. As good as iPad is for watching video, Vision Pro absolutely kicks ass. And if you have a keyboard on your lap, it’s a killer couch computer for the kind of person who loves to be watching a TV show while also messaging with friends online and casually browsing feeds and such.
If Vision Pro got to the point where it was a pair of glasses you wore, then it starts being able to overlap with your iPhone too, and even improve upon it since you don’t have to be staring down to look at it. But that still feels at least a decade away, give or take.
When it comes to more serious computing, Vision Pro as a standalone device doesn’t make sense. Interacting with it isn’t fast and precise enough, even if you ironed out all the current Vision Pro input issues and gave the Vision Pro more field of view and higher resolution and enough compute power to always render your full field of view. But as it evolves I suspect it will be an incredible companion device for the Mac, offering a display that is bigger and more immersive than anything you might be likely to have on your desk, and using high quality audio and visuals to help give you a sense of your own space to concentrate on deep work. I could even see macOS getting some updates to offer affordances to make it work better in the visionOS environment, and that alone could sell a fair few Vision Pro devices, and it makes the Mac an even more compelling platform for people.
So five years from now, I don’t see Vision Pro being a device sending Apple into another stage of hyper-growth like the iPhone did a few years into its life. It might grow into a decent sized market of its own. If five years from now Apple was selling the same number of iPads and Vision devices I would consider that an amazing win (assuming iPad sales don’t get too cannibalized). But I don’t think in terms of device sales we’ll see Apple getting catapaulted into a new category of success.
I suggested last year that Vision Pro was somewhat of a long shot. As a standalone product, as much as I adore mine I think it still is. But Vision Pro’s success doesn’t have to be from its own device sales alone. It’s a great test bed for new technology that could make its way into other devices.
Imagine the eye/hand tracking being in an iPad (or a HomePod device with its own screen) so you could have a device sitting on the counter displaying something, and still be able to interact with it from afar in your kitchen, even if you’ve got dirty hands. Imagine a future version of iPadOS where you can plug an iPad into a big monitor or two and have the same level of precise control over placement of apps you enjoy on Vision Pro (yeah, Stage Manager is a thing but let’s face it, it’s a real dud so far and needs Apple to make some serious investments). I can see Siri getting better on all platforms because Apple made investments in making it better out of necessity because visionOS could use better voice control. Or more generally, I could see all Apple portables getting better because Apple learned a lot from cramming so many components into the tight confines of Vision Pro.
That’s the thing about Apple now. Their product lines aren’t just silos; they make each other stronger. The iPhone is the most profitable consumer device of all time because it leveraged the same core OS as the Mac. iPad borrowed heavily from iPhone. Apple started using its own in-house design of chips starting with the iPad and iPhone, and that made Apple Watch possible, then Apple applied that knowledge to supercharge the Mac with M1/M2/M3 chips, and these Mac chips in turn are powering high end iPads and making Vision Pro possible as a device. Siri started off as an iPhone feature, but it’s now baked into every Apple OS, and in the HomePod it is the entire experience. And all of these Apple platforms rely on the Mac because developers use the Mac to make great software for these platforms. I suspect that Vision Pro’s biggest contribution to Apple won’t necessarily be from sales of the device itself, but its contributions that make these bonds even stronger, and give Apple even more core technologies it excels at.