Surprise! This is the 5th in a series of posts reviewing Apple’s 2023 across their major product lines, and laying out my hopes for 2024. Check out the other posts about the iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Apple Watch.
This is a weird one since the product isn’t out yet, but how can you talk about Apple in 2024 without mentioning their first major new platform since 2015’s Apple Watch?
How 2023 started
There had been rumblings that Apple was working on a mixed reality headset for a few years, and while we didn’t have anything official at the start of the year, there was quite a bit of smoke. It didn’t seem like a matter of if a headset announcement was coming, it was just a matter of time.
We got to see the Vision Pro unveiled in June of this year at Apple’s WWDC developer conference. Aspects of the product leaked beforehand, but much of it didn’t, to the point that many of the WWDC developer videos don’t reference a product name and call our “xrOS” as the platform instead of “visionOS.” Clearly the final details were held close to the chest by very few people.
It would be fair to say I had mixed feelings after the announcement:
I think people who buy this in 2024 will get a product that lets them interact with software in a way they never have before, and I think there will be magical moments that turn these people into proponents of the platform as “the future,” even if the utility right now is limited. I also think that the actual things people use this headset for will be things they do alone. As soon as you’re interacting with someone in person, the headset is coming off. Wearing this thing at a kid’s birthday party will be seen as borderline psychotic behavior.
Six months later, this is still what my overall feelings are about the product. I do think that the Vision Pro will enable some people with copious amounts of disposable income to get experiences they’ve never had before, and some of those experiences could be really cool. Given Apple hasn’t shown anything new about the Vision Pro since it’s announcement, we don’t really have anything else to go on to change those initial impressions.
One thing I have noticed since WWDC is that it seems at least some developers are struggling to be confident bringing their app to visionOS. There’s a simulator and documentation available, but numerous devs seem like they don’t really know how their app will feel in actual use. We had a similar situation with the Apple Watch, and in that case we had a lot of apps built on day one that weren’t right at all because they didn’t work how people actually wanted on a watch, so they had to be rewritten. I think devs are remembering this and don’t want to have that same issue again.
My hopes and expectations for 2024
Rumors are the Vision Pro is just a month or two away from shipping, so we don’t have long to wait. I’m hoping for a second “announcement” event for the Vision Pro in January that goes over the things they showed this year, as well as more use cases that weren’t covered back at WWDC, such as gaming, which was almost completely skipped over in June. I also hope we get some videos deep diving into some of the interactions and common tasks you’ll be able to do on the Vision Pro. I’m thinking something like the series we got for the iPhone way back when it was released, which showed things like pinch-to-zoom, which believe it or not, wasn’t a basic daily gesture like it is today.
In terms of pricing, I hope the “starting at $3,499” isn’t code for “the one you actually want is going to be $4,500-5,000.” Down the road I fully expect an extended product line like we have with all the other lines I discussed in this series, but for a first product in a new category that costs more than anything most people have bought outside a house or car, I hope they keep the pricing and product line simple. It’s a new platform and none of us know how it will be used, so even making people choose storage tiers is something I’d like to see them avoid. Just choose an amount that’s good but not overkill and just do that for this first one.
As for how it’s received by the public, I expect the reviews to be mostly conflicted. It will be called “the best version of a product we’re not sure anyone needs,” and will be lauded for doing a couple things that are really cool, but criticized for being less useful for performing many tasks than an iPad or Mac. The Verge will say that given the price and limited functionality it’s not something most people should buy yet, which will anger Apple fanboys despite actually being good advice.
I think people who buy one next year will be classic early adopters who are more forgiving of shortcomings and more adventurous when it comes to seeking out new apps and experiences. They’ll find things to really like about the product, but I think they’ll be frustrated when a good chunk of the public remains skeptical. I guess I’m a skeptic as well, as I think at this time next year, the most common uses for people with a Vision Pro will be using their Mac on a giant virtual display and watching movies on a giant virtual display.
But that’s my skeptic’s guess, this is a section with “hopes” in the title, so let’s get the optimist’s view in here too.
While I don’t see a reality where I get one of these in 2024 ($3,500+ is serious cash), I do hope that Apple’s next unveiling of the Vision Pro blows me away and turns me into a full on believer. VR headsets of all varieties are notorious for being something many people buy, enjoy the novelty of for a little bit, and then stick in a closet when the novelty wears off. I don’t know exactly what this would be, but I’m hoping for:
- Something I can’t do today with my iPhone, iPad, or Mac
- Something I can do on my other Apple devices, but in a way that’s clearly better than what I already have
And for something to meet these desires, it needs to be something I actually intend on doing, not something some hypothetical person out there would do. I don’t need 5 or 10 use cases, just 1 or 2 will suffice. This is a 1.0 product, after all, so I don’t expect it to be super mature yet, but I need to see something that makes it clear to me how my life would be $3,500+ better by having this product. I know people will see this and say, “you gotta have faith,” but like, this is the bare minimum I ask of anything I’m, going to buy. We should remember being Apple enthusiasts doesn’t mean we need to believe in and buy everything the company makes. I genuinely hope that Apple blows me away with this thing because it means we’re entering a new era of computing and I’m going to be able to have new experiences I’ve never had before, but the burden is on them to make that happen.
Other than that, I hope that third party developers figure out how to make great software for this thing and really impress with what they are able to make in this new medium. I think that looking at a big-ass computer screen or movie screen are going to be the biggest use cases a year from now, but I’d be happy to be proven wrong.
We should also remember that the Vision Pro isn’t an island, it’s joining Apple’s ecosystem, and I'm looking forward to whatever updates iOS, iPadOS, watchOS, and macOS will get to bring the Vision Pro into the family.
Finally, I’d love to see a gaming story develop here. Apple’s courting some big game developers recently, and it would make a lot of sense for them to get the likes of Capcom, Kojima Productions, and Ubisoft to bring games to the Vision Pro as well as the iPhone, iPad, and Mac games those companies are already putting out.
Final thoughts on all things Apple in 2024
I hope this series has come across as optimistic. I think the iPhone and Mac had a very good 2023, and while the Apple Watch and iPad had less spectacular years, I foresee good things on the horizon for each of those (and I neglected to mention Stage Manager improvements and Final Cut Pro for the iPad, which were big deals, even if they weren’t paired with new hardware). The Vision Pro is the biggest question mark, and I have some trepidation on how big a deal it will be to start, but it certainly could be a major change to everything we talk about in the Apple enthusiast space if it is.
With that, Birchtree is signing off for 2023. Thank you every one for reading, thank you for sharing, thank you for emailing me feedback and corrections…I appreciate all of you and I’m lucky to have an online group of people who enjoys talking about this nerdy stuff as much as I do. Cheers!