XR Market Shifts to Developer and Content Support in Wake of Apple Vision Pro Reveal

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By Eric Abbruzzese | 3Q 2023 | IN-7057

While Apple Vision Pro stole headlines in July 2023, the market post-reveal has homed in on developer support for Extended Reality (XR) content creation. Microsoft’s previously in-house Mixed Reality Toolkit 3 (MRTK3) is now independent, and Unity is already rolling out visionOS support in its development platform.

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Developers Are Busy in the XR Space


Apple Vision Pro stole the Extended Reality (XR) show over the past month, but the market as a whole continues to push forward in efforts to scale breadth and depth of capability across hardware, software, and services. Hardware tends to garner the most attention, but it is the back end ecosystems enabling that hardware that are most impactful. In the case of XR, this manifests with developer toolsets for XR-ready content creation, both in repurposing existing content for use in Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) devices and in creating novel content specifically for these devices. Along that vein, two recent announcements deserve some extra attention:

  • Microsoft is breaking out its previously in-house Mixed Reality Toolkit 3 (MRTK3) to broader availability through a partnership with Magic Leap and Qualcomm. General availability for developers is expected in September.
  • Unity has already added beta support for visionOS development in its Unity editor through a combination of Unity’s PolySpatial feature and Apple’s RealityKit. This promises to streamline content creation for Vision Pro, while keeping content cohesive with other visionOS content.

Putting Content before the Hardware Horse


MRTK3 is an open-source developer toolkit for Unity, supporting HoloLens, as well as other XR devices on both the AR and VR sides. It has mostly flown under the radar until this joint announcement, although Unity has been a leading developer framework for XR content for a few years. Speaking of Unity, the company has added beta support for Vision Pro and visionOS to its portfolio. The company promises both novel creation and porting capabilities into visionOS within Unity, along with previewing content within Vision Pro.

While capable developer toolkits are always a requirement, XR especially needs both feature-complete and familiar toolsets to maximize developer capability across a number of novel feature and content types. For instance, Apple’s focus on spatial compute and real-world passthrough create both challenge and opportunity for developers to tap into the hardware and software capabilities. Gesture control, spatial tracking, varying levels of passthrough, and more need proper development ecosystem support. While Apple will naturally fully leverage these new features in its development toolsets, the variability found outside of the Apple sphere makes it more challenging to support features across devices and platforms—platforms like MRKT aim to reduce the development challenge.

A Tale of Two Market Approaches


As expected, the XR market has somewhat turned into Apple versus everyone else. Microsoft and Qualcomm have been pillars of the XR market for some time, both in hardware and content, so their partnership through MRKT is no surprise. Qualcomm has its own developer ecosystem with Snapdragon Spaces, which will support MRTK3. Microsoft was early to market with HoloLens and iterated with HoloLens 2, while steadily expanding software capability with developer support in products like Dynamics. Device support is paramount for these companies, which shows in partner lists and supported hardware.

The other side of that coin is the siloed approach, as Apple has leveraged with its other product lines. This is expected with Vision Pro as well, and Magic Leap’s press release for its MRKT announcement specifically called out walled gardens in a likely nudge toward this market approach. While the walled garden is restrictive, it can ensure combability and a seamless experience across supported devices and platforms—the same result other companies are chasing.

The next wave of devices, especially those from direct Apple Vision Pro competitors, will be developer targeted by default, even if they are not marketed as such. More “traditional” VR devices that rely less on passthrough, such as Meta’s Quest 2 and Quest 3, are more mature and targeting more mature use cases (e.g., gaming), lessening the growing pains. Smart glasses and passthrough-first VR devices like Vision Pro do not have this luxury, so they are viewed as being in an earlier stage of their lifecycle.

Specific to Vision Pro, it also needs to be treated as a developer device first and foremost. Secondary to developers are enterprise customers and, finally, the consumer market. This is the proper path to market in an effort to support future devices and XR efforts going forward, with the risk of limiting the initial consumer audience, but that limitation is necessary. Messaging and marketing around the launch of new XR devices will become more important; as the market matures, so do customer expectations. The early access feelings around XR will, and should, erode over time to force higher expectations. In the meantime, content creators and developers can become familiar with toolsets and seek inspiration to ensure a strong launch for their content as hardware catches up.