Apple’s Vision Pro mixed-reality headset is coming to the real world on February 2, and all the previews so far have shown it to be a great bundle of contradictions. It’s capable but clunky. Mobile but tethered to a battery pack. Exciting but just so, so expensive.
Perhaps most importantly, it’s a device Apple touts for its software potential, but the demonstrations the company has given of the Vision Pro so far reveal that it will feature a small number of compatible apps at launch. That’s a big deal for an Apple product, whose predecessors—like the iPhone—owe a lot of their success to the app ecosystems that have blossomed around them.
“It’s amazing tech, but it’s also very clearly a development kit,” AR/VR developer Brielle Garcia said in an email to WIRED about the Vision Pro. “The price is way too high for consumers, and there’s no real killer apps for them yet.”
The Vision Pro costs $3,499 for the base model, and that’s excluding add-ons like prescription lenses or a carrying case. And even though the Vision Pro is highly anticipated, it’s entering a sagging market for VR headsets. It’s also arriving at a time of bad blood between Apple and its developers, with the company hiking up fees for out-of-app purchases. All this creates an unwelcoming environment for Vision Pro apps.
One developer, who asked not to be named out of concern that Apple might blacklist his company, says the excitement of developing something for the Vision Pro slipped away after realizing the device’s limitations. “This is the headset we’ve been waiting for for a long time. Once the glow wore off, I mean, we had a lot of questions.”
It didn’t help that, in their experience, Apple wasn’t exactly encouraging developers to dive in. Where other companies will try to entice developers onto their platforms, Apple’s approach has been “almost the opposite,” the developer says. “They want us to jump through a lot of hoops to even just be in the conversation of maybe being able to develop this kind of thing.”
Apple has not responded to a request for comment about apps on the Vision Pro.
“Any developer going into working with the Vision Pro will have known what they’re signing up for,” says Leo Gebbie, Principal Analyst of connected devices at the consumer research firm CCS Insight. He says Apple has a track record of being very involved in quality control with apps, especially on new hardware. “They’re basically giving them this brand new tool with a whole host of rules and regulations about how they want people to build the application. And Apple is even being prescriptive about how they want people to talk about the applications. They’re essentially saying, please build for our hardware, which is probably going to sell in very limited numbers.”
Developers, Gebbie says, are then faced with the dilemma of investing considerable time, effort, and money to develop an app for an audience that’s, at least for the foreseeable future, quite small.