A Mirrored Launch

There is a lot going against Apple Vision Pro before it launches. Besides the overall price, its utility now and in the future are still up for debate. Will it live up to its pitch as a general-purpose computing platform or will it end up just another headset?

I’m optimistic enough about Apple’s vision for spatial computing to pre-order one. I did so with some concerns about how the visionOS ecosystem will develop, and I keep thinking its launch reminds me of the 2015 Apple TV launch.

When Apple announced tvOS and the new 2015 Apple TV, they showed off custom streaming service apps, ports of iOS games, and new ways of doing things like browsing real estate and buying clothes from the TV in your living room, all by leveraging the existing language and frameworks from their other platforms.

Apple TV was more expensive than competing streaming devices. But the price felt justified by its better, more responsive hardware, focus on privacy, and greater potential because there could be third-party apps.

When the new Apple TV launched, the Amazon Prime Video streaming service was missing due to a disagreement between Amazon and Apple. And this was at a time when there were fewer streaming services than today, and the lack of Amazon Prime Video was felt by users.

Games on Apple TV were hindered by input restrictions (needing to support the remote as a controller), and while Apple TV was decently powered compared to other streaming devices (and even other iOS-powered devices), it was way underpowered compared to gaming consoles.

However, apps that weren’t streaming services never really took off. Maybe it was the overall utility of a TV-bound, remote-based device, or platform was too restricted or had too small of a user base for developers.

Apple TV wasn’t pitched as a general computing platform, but launched with a lot of potential for new and exciting use cases, and ultimately, settled into being just a streaming box for most people.

Mirrored Launch

For Apple Vision Pro, Apple once again is leveraging the existing language and frameworks from their other platforms to allow third-party streaming services, games, and apps to run on their new platform.

Starting at $3,500, Apple Vision Pro is more expensive than competing headsets. The Quest 3 starts at $500, and the Quest Pro and the Valve Index are both $1000 (however, the Valve Index requires a decent PC to use). Apple Vision Pro is more powerful than the Quest Pro, untethered unlike the PC-bound Valve Index, and features better display technology than either.

At launch, it’s Netflix that’s missing this time, along with YouTube and Spotify. These developers aren’t even allowing their iPad apps to run in the provided compatibility mode. This is probably due to a disagreement between the developers and Apple and not a technical issue.

We don’t know what gaming will ultimately look like on this device. In the announcement video, NBA 2k23 was shown in a window played with a PS5 controller. However, seeing some screenshots of Super Fruit Ninja makes it seem like somewhat immersive games will be possible. But we don’t know if fully immersive games like Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge or Half-Life: Alyx will be possible due to some kind of hardware or policy restriction.

For apps, Apple is going one step further with Apple Vision Pro than it did with Apple TV by allowing iPad apps to run in compatibility mode on the device. Hopefully this provides enough utility for users while the size of the user base increases enough to attract developers.

Optimistic prospects

Apple Vision Pro will be a capable device on day one. I’m looking forward to experiencing 3D content from Apple TV and Disney Plus, using it as a monitor for my Mac, playing Super Fruit Ninja, and developing spatial computing apps (even if just for myself).

Apple Vision Pro has a better general-purpose computing pitch than Quest or Index, thanks to sharing development tools with other Apple platforms. If a headset is going to break open the “spatial computing” category, it’s going to be Apple Vision Pro. Properly supporting visionOS is not trivial, but it is easier than rewriting your iOS app from scratch for a different spatial platform.

Eventually, Apple lifted controller restrictions for gaming on Apple TV, and along with the introduction of Apple Arcade, it brought a better gaming experience to Apple TV. Apple Vision Pro stands a better chance at being better at gaming compared to other headsets than Apple TV did compared to other devices that plugged into your TV (gaming consoles).

The Apple TV wasn’t the only recent Apple platform that started out with lofty, broad plans and settled into a niche. Apple Watch also leverages the existing language and frameworks from their other platforms to allow third-party apps, but it ended up focusing on streaming audio and health-related apps.

We might end up with another limited niche platform from Apple, this time with a focus on 3D content and maybe VR gaming. But this time, it could also be different. Either way, I plan to have fun with my Apple Vision Pro.