A Developer's View of Vision Pro

Last week at WWDC I was extraordinarily fortunate to be one of the very few people in the world to try out Vision Pro for myself. The 30 minute session I had with it has been described in tremendous depth in lots of places (the best likely being Myke’s discussion on Cortex), so I won’t go into the content of that demo itself, but instead focus on what I think this platform means for developers, and [spoiler alert] why I’m incredibly excited to get started developing for it (and think you should too).

Starting on Day One

I have been a “day one” developer for three of Apple’s platforms: the iPhone, the iPad and the Apple Watch. In each of these cases I saw an opportunity for both personal and business growth and jumped at it. There is something different about starting to work on a platform from its infancy, where things are very uncertain and the future prospects are not clear.

That uncertainty is certainly something which we should be circumspect about. I’ve done this enough times now to be clear-eyed about what is to come. This will be an incredibly difficult process, full of false-starts, dead-ends and unfulfilled expectations. That is just the reality of this type of work. At the start of something completely new it is impossible to expect for things to be worked out to a degree that this wouldn’t be the case.

Nevertheless, I’m going to be a “day one” developer for the Vision Pro. I’m extremely excited to be part of the cadre of folks who look at that uncertainty and see it as an opportunity, and not a drawback. I want to be part of the (potentially messy) process of finding the direction this platform takes.

Uncompromising Experience

In addition to it just being super cool to try out the Vision Pro, something I’m incredibly grateful for having that opportunity was to be able to confirm whether the extraordinary promises Apple made about the device in the Keynote were real. I am happy to report that they were. That the level of fidelity, responsiveness and performance promised was actually delivered…which is in itself remarkable.

To aim so high and then deliver on that high level of expectation feels nearly impossible. I went into my demo hoping to be impressed, but instead I left speechlessly amazed. It is clear to me that Apple has set a very high bar for user experience here and then held themselves to it.

For any physical product there is always a tensioned relationship between price and user experience: as you increase the price you can improve the user’s experience, lower the price and the experience will suffer. That is the simple reality of the economics of creation. Ultimately one of these factors must be the predominate driver, you’re either favoring experience or favoring price.

For example, the initial version of the Apple Watch felt like a device where they had a specific price in mind ($349) and then did their best to provide as good of a user experience as possible at that price. That first Apple Watch was slow, had a comparatively poor screen and was limited in a number of ways. Apple was able to provide a compelling enough experience with it to establish it as a solid product, but I’d argue it wasn’t until the Series 3 or 4 where the user experience was finally excellent. I imagine Apple could have launched the Series 3 as the first Apple Watch but it would have required a 3X price. It would have delivered a fantastic user experience but likely wouldn’t have worked in the market. In that case it was the correct move to be price focused.

With Vision Pro the opposite tactic seems to have been taken. Apple has an ambitious view on what the baseline user experience for this device must be and then built a device which is able to meet those expectations. As a result it is more expensive than many folks would like or expect, but that price is justified by the user experience it can deliver. In this case a lesser/cheaper version of this product would likely cross a point where it becomes pointless. If you can’t perfectly recreate reality in minute detail and responsively let the user navigate their new world, the whole product feels meaningless. It has to be this good in order to be useful at all, so the price is high.

For this product, being user experience driven makes sense, they are establishing a completely new concept of computing. If they miss on user experience it simply won’t be established, whatever the price.

The Economics of “Day One”

I’ve heard a few discussions about how the Vision Pro is too expensive or niche to create a viable software business environment. Whether or not that is true is impossible to know. I do suspect that most of the economic realities of the App Store will carry over to this platform. That there will be a rush towards the bottom in regards to pricing and a general user expectation that software should be free (or nearly free).

I’ve made my peace with this on iOS and so don’t find that to be a barrier for my excitement for getting started developing on this platform. It is up to me as the developer to adapt my business to where my customers are, not to expect my customers to change themselves to suit my business.

I’m going into developing for this platform knowing that economically it might not be (initially) a gold rush. I view it far more as a long-term investment in my future business rather than something which needs to pay off right away.

Personal Growth and Intellectual Engagement

Throughout my career I’ve often sought to be at the forefront of things, to invest early into new technologies and be one of the few folks out there on the cutting edge. I do this because it helps me to grow and stay engaged in my work.

It is comfortable to just keep doing the old thing, the old way. It is scary and awkward to be working on the new thing in new ways. I don’t negatively judge seeking that comfort and being cautious about adopting new things. I understand the instinct and respect it. But for me, I have found that time and time again the more comfortable I am in my work, the less I enjoy it. I would rather face difficult problems and climb the mountain of solving them, than cruise along on level ground.

This isn’t for everyone (or every situation) but I can definitively say that over my years of taking this strategy that discomfort has been worthwhile.

Developing “Platform Intuition”

Another reason I want to develop for visionOS from the start is that it is the only way I know for developing what I’ll call “Platform Intuition”.

This year watchOS 10 introduced a variety of structural and design changes. What was fascinating (and quite satisfying) to see was how many of these changes were things that I was already doing in Pedometer++ (and had discussed their rationale in my Design Diary). This “simultaneous invention” was not really all that surprising, as it is the natural result of my spending years and years becoming intimately familiar with watchOS and thus having an intuition about what would work best for it.

That intuition is developed by following a platform’s development from its early stages. You have to have seen and experienced all the attempts and missteps along the way to know where the next logical step is. Waiting until a platform is mature and then starting to work on it then will let you skip all the messy parts in the middle, but also leave you with only answers to the “what” questions, not so much the “why” questions.

I want that “Platform Intuition” for visionOS and the only way I know how to attain it is to begin my journey with it from the start.

A fundamentally new Reality

All the points I’ve made above about why I’m getting started on visionOS today would be pointless if ultimately this platform is itself a dead-end, and I’m working on something without a future. Having experienced the product myself I’m increasingly confident that this isn’t a cul-de-sac on the march of computing progress. What Apple did was ambitiously seek to take computing out of a “device oriented” context and push it up into a reality/ambient context. Rather than a computer being something to go to, it is something with you.

That shift is fundamental. The interface for Vision Pro felt like it was reading my thoughts rather than responding to my inputs. Its infinite, pixel perfect canvas also felt inherently different. I wasn’t constrained by my physical setup, instead my setup was whatever I thought would be most productive for me.

I suspect the promise of this fundamentally new platform might not be fully expressed for a number of years as the hardware and software of the platform mature, but having experienced it, I can’t really see a future where this isn’t the way we interact with computers.

In the few short days since trying it out at Apple Park I am regularly finding myself wishing I had one already. When I sat down to write this article I was having trouble context shifting back from WWDC mode and wished that I could have gone up to a virtual cabin in the woods, opened a text editor and written it there. Or similarly while I was watching WWDC session videos in my hotel room on my 14” MacBook Pro I found myself wishing for a larger display where I could have the video, notes, documentation and Xcode open all at once.

In short, my brain has crossed a Rubicon and now feels like experiences constrained to small, rectangular screens are lesser experiences.

…So Let’s Get Started.

I’m slightly glad the Vision Pro won’t come out until early next year, so that I can still spend this summer working on my iOS 17/watchOS 10 updates without being completely distracted by visionOS. I have at least seven months to find time and focus to devote to this new platform without it diminishing my existing endeavors.

I expect the journey between now and whenever it launches to be a rich, fulfilling journey. It will be a complex journey with bumps along the way, but a journey I can be confident will be rewarding as well.

Look for Widgetsmith for visionOS from “day one”.

…Let’s Get Started.

David Smith