It's been a couple weeks since Apple's WWDC keynote and I've been enjoying everyone's excitement. I'm not big on offering a quick hot take as I'd rather take my time in pondering the news.
Apple Vision Pro My initial reaction to the Vision Pro was pretty much in-line with what I'd expected based on the rumors. I think Apple's spatial computer will be a success. Will it redefine computing? That might be an overstatement but it seems likely that if all goes to plan it will certainly have a dramatic influence. Initially it will be an added option, an expensive and premium experience for those that can afford it. But given the cost of a MacBook Pro and external display can get into the territory of $3,000+ the Vision Pro, as a computer with nearly unlimited, room-filling screen size seems to be well within the range of Apple's current offerings.
In the run-up to the announcement, much has been speculated about the use-case for this device. Thus far headsets have been focused on virtual reality experiences such as gaming, and, I think, some are using it for certain industrial/training type applications. At least, that's my impression from a distance. I've not paid much attention to it. Meta wanted to expand that out into a virtual world of weird floating torsos for meetings and other, perhaps social events. Again, I've not paid much attention to it beyond initial skimming of the creepy avatars. Meta's attempt hasn't gone far and seems to be stalled. And so it's easy to think that this is a very small, niche market not likely to be a space where broad consumer success would happen, even for Apple.
I think it's clear to most by now that what Apple showed us two weeks ago is intended to be something much bigger. And really, it's not surprising given the time and resources they've put into the product. Of course they're going to offer something unlike what's come before, that's what they do. This is not a VR headset but rather a powerful computer that you wear in front of your eyes. It's more akin to an iPad Pro than Mac in that it will run iPad style apps from the start and it has a windowing system that seems more reminiscent of an iPad Pro with Stage Manager enabled. While the windows have a new visual style unique to the new OS they generally seem similar to the style of windows iPadOS in that they are rounded with more space between elements when compared to the more dense, less rounded windows of Mac app windows.
I also suspect that the Vision Pro will frustrate some Mac users in the same way the iPad has. After the initial flash of excitement Mac power users will run up against an OS and applications that, while visually very well designed are still, at the end of the day, more like an iPad than a Mac. And while iPadOS and apps have all been growing in complexity and capability they are still not quite a Mac. But, more importantly, like the iPad, the Vision platform is based on an interaction model that is not a keyboard and a mouse and some will struggle with that just as they have with the iPad and it's unique gesture based interactions.
That said, one key difference is in the size of the windows which will give Vision computers some breathing room. The iPad form factor has always been smaller, maxing out at 13". Even as the OS has become more refined and powerful, it's still a small screen and I think that's been a problem for Mac users that are used to screens 14" and larger. But Vision computers won't be limited in that way. Users will have more room to work and that will relieve some of the sense of confinement they feel when working with the smaller screened iPad. I suspect the experience of using a Vision computer, compared to a Mac, will be simultaneously amazing and frustrating for some.
Another key difference, Vision computers will also offer a gaming and entertainment experience that goes far beyond what a traditional computer or iPad can offer. That, combined with a huge, iPad sized App Library plus new apps designed for the platform, would seem to provide the kind of foundation that might lead to a slow and steady adoption.
We'll still be using smart phones, tablets, laptops and desktops for a good long while. But in 3-5 years we'll begin to see the roll-out of more models of Vision computers in higher volumes. With early bugs squashed, a larger App Library, an improved, higher volume production line, the prices will have started to come down and the general public will have gotten more used to the idea of such a device and what it offers. My guess is that the least expensive version of the 2028 model will be the hardware equivalent to this first offering but at a much lower price. Thinking about it in the context of a long game, in the 4 to 6 year time frame, it seems reasonable to suggest that Apple's headset line-up will have come down to entry level models in the range of $1,500 to $2,000. Still above a budget Mac or iPad, but more affordable.
We'll see. At the moment there seems to be a lot of potential and excitement for this new category of computer. There's plenty of time yet for more hot takes, flushed excitement to be followed by flushed frustration.
Next, iPadOS 17. Beyond the Apple Vision Pro, my primary interest is what's coming to iPadOS. Probably most notable:
- The customizable Lock Screen with widgets looks really nice and I imagine will be a helpful addition.
- Interactive widgets (and more placement options of those widgets on the Homescreen).
- PDFs in Notes get some really excellent updates like machine learning that recognizes/creates form fields. For people that use pdf forms or who rely on pdfs for annotating or collaboration, these updates will be really useful. I can imagine this will be really great for students.
- Notes gets cross-note linking which is going to be helpful for some.
- Reminders is getting a new column view and categories for grocery lists.
- Not too surprising, Stage Manager is getting more window resizing and placement options which will improve the experience.
I've been really satisfied with iPadOS 16 and the improvements coming with the above features and the many other enhancements in iPadOS 17 will only make it better. The improvements to Stage Manager will likely quiet some of the most vocal complaints of that feature heard over the last year. In other words, the iPad is still not a Mac but some will find it more usable as it more closely approximates the macOS experience they want.
There was no mention of Xcode for iPadOS so that will be a complaint for another year.
With the Stage Manager improvements and the release of FCP and Logic Pro for iPad just before WWDC, it seems likely that we'll see a 15" iPad Pro or iPad Studio sometime in the next year. And I would think that either this year or next year's iPhones will also have cameras/features added for both Vision's 3D video as well as for capturing video for FCP for the iPad. Is there enough bandwidth for that sort of real time capture?
Those of us already happy with the iPad will be even happier.