Apple this week unveiled its first mixed reality headset, the Vision Pro, priced at $3,499. The device has a dual 4K display, a powerful laptop chip, advanced eye and hand tracking technology and more, but The Vege posted that the Vision Pro has another advantage that money can’t buy: Apple’s developer ecosystem.
Perhaps one of the biggest advantages of the Vision Pro is the ease with which iPhone and iPad developers can port their existing applications to visionOS, the device’s operating system, using familiar tools and frameworks. This is in stark contrast to rival headsets from competitors such as Meta, Valve, PlayStation and HTC, which rely heavily on virtual reality and augmented reality apps and games made for platforms such as Unity or OpenXR.
While some competitors, such as Meta Quest, have important applications such as Microsoft Office, Xbox and Netflix, the options beyond that are very limited. In the years since Meta Quest launched, only about 400 games and apps have been released to the Meta Quest store, indicating a lack of content currently optimized for VR.
Unlike other headset ecosystems, Apple is promising hundreds of thousands of apps on the Vision Pro’s first day of availability, thanks to the foundation the company has built on other platforms. Apple will automatically convert iPad and iPhone apps into “a scalable 2D window” for Apple Vision Pro, with no additional work unless developers want to make some other changes.
For developers who want to create new content for the headset, Apple is also making it easier for those already familiar with its ecosystem to create apps for visionOS. “visionOS is not too different from iPadOS with ARKit (Augmented Reality Kit),” said Maximiliano Firtman, a longtime mobile and web developer. their familiar UIKit apps, Unity apps, or their recently used SwiftUI apps to develop visionOS apps.”
Developers can use frameworks already available on iOS and iPadOS – SwiftUI, RealityKit, ARKit – to build immersive AR and VR experiences for Vision Pro. These frameworks have been “extended to spatial computing,” Apple said, allowing developers to create immersive apps for visionOS. They can also use existing tools to build apps, including Xcode and Unity, as well as Apple’s upcoming Reality Composer Pro, which will allow developers to “preview and prepare 3D content” for use in visionOS apps.
Firtman added that even though the visionOS Software Development Kit has not yet been released, web developers can still use “WebXR to develop immersive web applications and web experiences using Safari on visionOS …… because much of the knowledge needed to create applications already exists.”
This means that in addition to Apple’s native apps, we will likely see many iOS and iPadOS apps when Vision Pro is available. For developers who take the leap, Apple is encouraging them to extend the functionality of their apps. A simple port will allow apps to be displayed as “windows” on Vision Pro, creating a floating version in mixed reality. Apps with 3D elements may render content as “Volume” to increase the depth visible from all angles, and more immersive apps can build a “Space” that occupies the user’s entire field of view. “.
“Apple will likely prioritize apps that use the new Volume and Space app paradigm,” said Steve Moser, iOS developer and editor-in-chief of The Tape Drive, “and I think developers should get their existing iOS and iPadOS apps recompiled for visionOS as soon as possible. iPadOS apps recompiled as visionOS apps as soon as possible so they can get them up on the visionOS AppStore and have a chance to be recommended by Apple.”
But that approach falls short of Apple’s competitors in one area: games. It is noted that Apple says the device will have more than 100 games from its Arcade service when it launches early next year, but most of those games aren’t made specifically for VR. That’s still important, because users can easily pull out their iPhone or iPad to play Arcade games without having to put on a headset.
The lack of great VR games could put the Vision Pro in the same position as the Mac — a device that’s primarily used for productivity rather than gaming. While Apple is trying to entice game developers to put their work on macOS with a new porting tool, the truth is that most developers aren’t prioritizing the Mac as a platform because most gamers use Windows, and we still need to see how these new ports actually perform.
While Apple’s headset may not immediately have some exciting experiences, it’s unlikely to affect the success of the headset,” said Blair Renaud, VR game developer and director of IrisVR, “They seem to have captured all the points that Meta has been figuring out over the last few years, which is the overall user experience. They’re clearly not focused on the current VR ecosystem and game developers like myself, but this may end up being the right choice.”
Strong hardware is a must for the Vision Pro to succeed, but like most devices on the market, it’s the apps that will determine its ultimate success. The upside for Apple is that it’s easier to build on top of an already established foundation than to build from scratch.