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The Vision Pro was the "One More Thing" we needed
Reflections on my time at WWDC 2023
Reading time: 6 minutes
Over the last two weeks, there have been plenty of posts from news outlets and tech blogs about Apple’s announcements at WWDC23, especially the discussion of the Vision Pro. I won’t go into the same level of detail around it, but rather give you my personal story. Check out Nilay Patel’s impression and review from someone who got to actually experience it.
It would be fair to say that I’m a long-time Apple fan. I’ve had a developer account for years, and have dabbled with prototypes of AR apps, but developing was never my main gig. When Apple announced that they were doing a limited in-person experience at WWDC this year and that there was a lottery, I entered. And I was fortunate enough to be selected.
I talked to many of the Apple folks at the event, and they all said that this had a feeling of something different. The day before the keynote had what I would call a Garden Party in the courtyard of the Infinite Loop campus; something they hadn’t done before. It was a lovely start to the week, and the atmosphere of welcoming was huge.
The next day we gathered at Apple Park, which is truly a marvel to behold. The scale is awesome in the true sense of the word. Cafe Macs was opened up, and the stage and seating were extended out for the viewing of the Keynote and State of the Platform presentations.
While the Keynote was the pre-recorded presentation that was simulcast, we did have a live welcome from Tim Cook and Craig Federighi. Yes, the hair is as impressive in person.
The Keynote went along with all of the exciting announcements, but as things sounded like they were wrapping up, we knew that there had to be something more, unless the rumours were truly off-base. We were given the “One More Thing” moment we had hoped for.
The Vision Pro is a very Apple approach to XR. The focus is on design, interface, and getting out of the way as much as possible. And releasing something with price as no object. The lack of controllers and diving right into gesture control sounds ambitious, but apparently, it does “just work.” I’ve been using the gesture control on my Apple Watch for a while and it does feel natural. This will be even more so.
With the number of sensors and cameras on the device, computing and vision of the environment, it feels to me that this is where the Apple Car team was redeployed to.
We spent the afternoon meeting the teams and touring the Apple Park campus. Then we ended the day at the Steve Jobs Theatre, where we got a close-up look at the Vision Pro. While we didn't get to try it on (only a few select media outlets did, and they couldn't photograph or video their 30-minute session), the buzz and excitement in the room were tangible.
The next day we were given a dedicated session on developing for the new platform at the newly built Apple Developer Centre. That was an informative overview of the new technology stack, and the process of migrating existing applications to the platform, as well as the new tools that they are offering to build from scratch. There is a direct integration with Unity, as well as their new Reality Composer Pro.
The SDK is now available, so we can get started, and they said that there will be an opportunity for a Developer Hardware kit in July, which I would love to get my hands on. For one, I'm looking forward to re-opening development on TheatAR and Augmented Symphony and bringing them to Vision Pro, as well as exploring other performance-based experiments.
While we have had VR/AR/XR for a long time, and the creative applications for it have been wonderful, Apple's entry into the space brings with it their ecosystem and design focus. Their price point is far too high at the moment for real adoption in the creative and user realm. At $3500 USD, this is not a consumer-facing device yet, especially compared to Meta's Quest VR headsets that start at a much lower price, but require payment in the form of privacy and personal data. I see this as being similar to the first iPhone. The first iPhone didn't have apps, had slow data, and didn't have third-party development support. Since 2007, the iPhone has become integral to our everyday experience and created affordances for creative applications that we couldn't imagine at the time. I don't know if the Vision Pro and Spacial Computing will have the same level of impact, but from what I could see, the seamless control of moving from AR to VR by the user, and the use of gestures rather than controllers will open these experiences to many more people who have been intimidated by existing VR technology.
I think it is the space of the creative makers to play a part in how this develops. We must experiment and develop for the platform using ways and ideas that are innovative, and drive the future direction. In the same way that the Apple Watch was launched without a specific focus, the kinds of apps that took hold were in the Health & Fitness space, and so that drove the hardware decisions to expand in those areas. Apple is presenting the VisionPro mostly as a content consumption device at the moment, drawing on their catalogue of TV series and Movies, and interactive experiences with partners such as Disney. But I think we can craft some incredible creative experiences that truly would not have been possible without a platform like this. I'm especially excited to be able to involve students in this process and mix interdisciplinary teams to fashion neoteric experiences.
I’ve tried a lot of web browsers. An important aspect for me has been being able to separate various accounts between work, personal, school, and more. Customization of the interface is also great, and I enjoyed playing with the Vivaldi browser, which allows almost limitless customization. I used Shift for a long time, and it did a great job.
But right now, I’m loving Arc by The Browser Company of New York. It does feel like a big jump in what a browser can be. It’s still Chromium-based, so extensions work. But the philosophy of the project feels great, and they release a new build every Thursday. It feels fresh and exciting, and it’s working for me.
It’s still invite-only right now, so here’s an invite for you:
If more than 5 of you sign up, let me know and I’ll generate another link next week.
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