A lot of you have bought an Apple Vision Pro, it turns out—200,000 if reports to be believed. While Apple sells way more iPhones, iPads, and Macs than that, the Vision Pro is, at this point in time, effectively sold out, days before its official Feb. 2 launch date.
I imagine Apple is quite pleased by these initial numbers, as well as the conversations sparked by the review embargo that lifted yesterday. The Verge’s nearly 30-minute review of the headset has already drawn in over one million views, and Marques Brownlee’s unboxing has about five times that amount. At least in the tech community, there are a lot of eyes on Apple’s “spatial computing” device. It says a lot, considering Vision Pro is far from the first mixed reality headset on the market. The Meta Quest 3 certainly has hype behind it, and has driven some cool development for mixed reality apps. But Apple’s headset feels like a different beast entirely, maybe because, well, it’s Apple diving head-first into XR.
Vision Pro could end up as yet another overly ambitious product that never truly captures the market, and lives on as a quirky device in the company’s history. But there’s potential here for Vision Pro to really shake things up, for both Apple as a company, and mixed reality as a whole.
Vision Pro needs to succeed as a mixed reality headset
Before anything else, the Vision Pro needs to realize itself as a successful XR headset. It seems it’s already off to a good start, with those numerous, enthusiastic pre-orders. However, as we’ve seen with other anticipated devices in the past, sales alone won’t make a new product thrive beyond its initial launch.
Here’s the thing: The tech seems good. Browsing through reviews, it seems that Apple mostly nailed the hardware experience for Vision Pro, with reviewers praising its immersion and first-party experiences. As an Apple fan, it’s cool that you can connect your Mac to your Vision Pro and work in mixed reality then and there. Aside from Vision Pro being a bit too heavy and having poor battery life, most of the weak points, it seems, are software based: Personas, which turn you into a digital avatar during FaceTime calls, don’t work well, and are mostly a bizarre experience. Virtual typing, too, is tricky, with reviewers recommending a Bluetooth keyboard instead. Those are things Apple can fix in time. Sure, a Vision Pro 2 might improve on the battery, maybe the weight, but I don’t think those flaws are what would hold back Vision Pro from interested consumers.
What will make or break the Vision Pro as a mixed reality headset, in my opinion, are developers. Sure, Apple has poured a lot of resources into making first-party apps and experiences great on Vision Pro (I just want one for a virtual movie theater) but that will only take you so far. A customer needs to be able to open the App Store on their Vision Pro and see a huge array software options, just as they’d find on the iOS and macOS App Stores. The iPhone had a ton of hype behind it at launch, but you couldn’t really do anything with it out of the box. It wasn’t until the App Store and the “There’s an App for That” campaign that the world was convinced on just how useful an iPhone with third-party apps could really be.
Right now, I see the app situation on Vision Pro going either way, but it’s easy to take a pessimistic stance. There are some big names that opted out of developing apps for the Vision Pro at launch, including YouTube, Netflix, and Spotify. While you can access at least YouTube and Netflix from Safari on visionOS, these experience would ideally be designed for Vision Pro, especially considering how an immersive entertainment experience is a huge selling point for Apple’s headset. But, it’s hard to blame companies for not immediately investing in Vision Pro. It’s a brand new category for Apple, and for many consumers, and considering the headset starts at $3,499, I certainly understand developers taking a “wait and see” approach here.
But let’s get optimistic: Vision Pro pre-order numbers are better than expected. That might give some cautious developers the excuse they need to test the waters, developing Vision Pro versions of their apps and services for this new market. It’d be great to have huge names like Spotify and Netflix, of course, but I think smaller fish could have just as much of an impact. Crouton, for example, is a Vision Pro cooking app that lets you see your recipes while you cook, and pin timers to different parts of your kitchen. The Wall Street Journal’s Joanna Stern showed this off in her Vision Pro review, and, to me, it’s the first non-Apple experience that sells me on Vision Pro. It’s like the first time you saw a really cool app on the iPhone, that’d made you think, “Shit, I really need one of those.”
There are so many possibilities for third-party apps that would make Vision Pro a truly useful device for so many people. Personally, I’d love to see companies bringing educational software to Vision Pro, in a way it did for iPad: Med school students could learn through consequence-free mixed reality experiences on Vision Pro, while someone studying the solar system could “see” the planets up close in front of them. And while it’s never been Apple’s strong suit, gaming could be huge here. But, like, I would have never thought about something like Crouton, and now I want a Vision Pro for it. If enough developers make interesting and useful apps like that, Vision Pro could be a game changer.
Meta Quest 3 has made some progress on this front: You have games that use the real-world around you to really immerse you in the action, as well as apps for connecting to your workstation in XR. PianoVision tries to teach you piano by putting a virtual keyboard in your space, and using a Guitar Hero-like system to show you how to play. Apple needs apps like these on Vision Pro.
The price point needs to change (or expand)
It needs to be said that the market will not adopt a $3,500 mixed reality headset en masse. It just won’t. If you have an objective consumer looking to buy a mixed reality headset, and they’re looking between a headset from Apple that costs thousands of dollars, and a headset from Meta that costs $500, which will they pick?
Just as the Mac lineup has a spectrum of price points to choose from, Apple will eventually need to make a non-Pro Vision Pro. What will they call it? Vision Plus? Vision Air? Vision? Whatever the name, they need to come out with a product that cuts some unnecessary corners to bring the price down to something most people will want to buy. Maybe they remove EyeSight, the currently half-baked feature that lets people see your “eyes” on the front of the display; maybe it doesn’t quite have all the same cameras and sensors as the Pro. Whatever the case, a more consumer-friendly headset with a consumer-friendly price tag, assuming the software support is there, could propel Apple’s Vision Pro plans forward.
Mixed reality will need to go beyond a bulky headset
Nilay Patel of The Verge says that most people he shows Vision Pro to think it’s smaller than they expected. However, smaller than expected doesn’t mean small. This thing isn’t what you’d call “low profile.” That will need to change if this tech is actually going to take off in a meaningful way.
Let’s say Vision Pro succeeds as a mixed reality headset: The App Store is robust, and many different people can find many different uses for Apple’s new platform. There’s a ceiling to how far a Vision Pro-design can go. Sure, you might take your Vision Pro with you outside the home. I don’t know if I could wear one on a plane (unless we all just decide that that’s normal now), but it seems small enough that it could be toted around on your travels.
But it’s not low-profile in a way that makes it as versatile as an iPhone. You’re not going to wear your Vision Pro as you walk down the street, go grocery shopping, or, um, drive. If mixed reality is going to succeed in a large scale way, Vision Pro will eventually need to step aside for something most people won’t notice they’re even wearing—smart glasses, maybe even smart contacts. And while we’re only at the headset stage now, it’s not impossible to envision that future: If you can somehow take the software experience of Vision Pro and translate that to a standard pair of glasses, that could be widely adopted. You could walk down the street with a normal pair of glasses, and Google Maps could overlay unobtrusive directions on top of your world; you could wear glasses grocery shopping, and an app could highlight the items you need on your list and how much each cost. You could even theoretically wear them while driving, though the tech would need to be really good for that. (On second thought, let’s not let people wear mixed reality while operating a motor vehicle.)
The point is, there is a path for mixed reality here. Google Glass was simply too ahead of its time: If Apple can convince the market that mixed reality is useful and something that people should and could use every day, then perhaps in, say, 10 years, we’ll all be wearing this tech on our faces all the time.