When Apple released the iPhone on June 29th, 2007, it didn’t have an App Store, an SDK, or a million developers with a million ideas behind it. It had 16 icons on the home screen, including an app for Stocks, a Clock, a Calculator, and a Phone. And that was it. Apple’s response to developers who wanted to code for the platform? “Build a webapp.” But within months, 3rd party developers released package managers for the phone that allowed anyone to build and install an iPhone app by bypassing Apple’s closed doors and loading software not approved by Cupertino. With the clear demand by iPhone user’s that they needed more than a webapp and a Stocks app, Apple released the official iPhone SDK and App Store a few months later, and the developers took over, changing the world forever.
Several years later, Apple released the Apple Watch. This time, Apple was ready for the developer community, but Apple’s focus for watchOS was sending emojis and heartbeats to other Watch owners via their Friend Wheel. It didn’t really catch on, but the Watch found a huge audience with fitness trackers, runners, cyclists, and outdoor enthusiasts. Again, it didn’t take long for Apple to scrap the Friend Wheel and re-focus watchOS 2, following Watch wearers into the world of fitness.
At WWDC 2023, Apple announced their new spatial computing headset, the Apple Vision Pro. Jam packed with sensors, cameras, and pixels, Vision Pro is Apple’s entry into the growing market of VR/AR headsets and devices. This time, Apple’s new headset — and the visionOS operating system — will be released with six-plus months of developer support baked in and an App Store full of apps just waiting to be downloaded — and with little direction from Apple on the best intended use scenerios. Apple has included a few essential apps to show what Vision Pro can do: a web browser, a photo viewer, a movie player, and FaceTime. But the question many are asking remains: what is this $3,500 device going to be used for?
They’re looking to Apple for answers, and I think that’s entirely wrong. They should be looking to the developers.
Over the next six months hundreds or thousands of developers are going to be coding apps for a device that won’t release until “early 2024” with the hope they design the killer app — the reason for the device to exist — and again change the world. While I would personally pay just for the movie watching experience alone, I can’t imagine the examples Apple gave during the WWDC keynote are all we’re going to have come release date. Reading a blog in a web browser, watching creepy-sad 3D movies of your kids in a dark room, mindfully meditating — these are demos, these aren’t the reasons to spend that time of money.
Apple doesn’t have the best track record for deciding how a specific device is going to be used by the masses. They missed the mark with iPhoneOS 1 and watchOS 1, so why are we expecting them to be any better at defining visionOS 1?
We, the users and the developer community, will be the ones deciding what visionOS will be — maybe it becomes a surprise gaming console, or maybe someone rips off Nintendogs — or worse, Nintengirlfriends, eek! — or maybe ByteDance just ports TikTok to the headset and we never go outside ever again. Whatever happens over the next six months, it will be the developers filling in the blanks — then Apple will sweep in, pivot visionOS, and we’ll all be enveloped in the warm glow of spatial computing a year later.
If the world changes in early 2024, the developers will be the ones that changed it. Apple just invented spatial computing.