Apple Vision Pro Launch: A Retrospective and Look Ahead for Spatial Compute

Subscribe To Download This Insight

By Eric Abbruzzese | 1Q 2024 | IN-7268

Apple’s Vision Pro Extended Reality (XR) headset was officially launched in February 2024. After years of building hype and expectations, questions around the device’s place in the current XR ecosystem and the broader tech market remain.

Registered users can unlock up to five pieces of premium content each month.

Log in or register to unlock this Insight.


Best in Class, at a Cost


Apple’s first hardware effort in Augmented Reality (AR)/Virtual Reality (VR), its Vision Pro headset, has officially launched and is publicly available. After years of preparation from Apple, including significant hiring, investment, and Research and Development (R&D), the launch has proven to be a milestone for the company, and the tech market as a whole.

From the initial announcement about Vision Pro, Apple has been clear that this device is not meant to be a traditional VR headset, nor a smart glasses alternative—rather, it sits between these device types, more VR at the hardware level, but AR at the user experience level. Vision Pro has also been positioned as a pathway toward spatial compute, a term Apple did not coin, but did coopt successfully. Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Tim Cook likened spatial compute to the next wave of computing, alongside personal and mobile computing.

Initial impressions of Vision Pro are varied, but mostly in line with expectations. As a very quick summary, the device is too expensive and not ready for mass market, but what is there is well done and delivers on Apple’s promises. ABI Research examined the initial Vision Pro announcement in an earlier ABI Insight (“It’s Finally Real(ity): Apple’s Vision Pro XR Hardware Reveal Elicits Mixed Excitement and Confusion”), and comparing the expectations versus the reality of launch shows that Apple has succeeded in far more areas than it missed.

As for what Vision Pro does especially well: display, passthrough, and tracking. By most accounts, these are all best in class compared to similar headsets—both the mass market devices like Meta Quest 3 and the higher-end devices from companies like Pimax and Varjo. Of course, there are noted downsides as well, beyond the known high price. Comfort is subjective, but most accounts agree that the device is heavier than ideal, and battery life (2.5 hours estimated) could be improved.

Comparisons Are Interesting, but Difficult


One thing that has become clear is that Vision Pro is not really comparable to Meta Quest 3, it’s “closest” competitor. Despite Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s efforts to speak to that comparison objectively, it’s not fair to either device to force a comparison. Vision Pro is the better headset for some types of media consumption, but not gaming. Vision Pro has objectively superior passthrough and spatial tracking, but Quest 3’s target use cases don’t require that level of accuracy. A helpful metaphor for this comparison is that Quest 3 is closer to a game console, while Vision Pro is closer to a traditional computer. Quest 3 is the best gaming headset without question, thanks to a tailored gaming content library and the simple presence of physical controllers. Vision Pro is the best photo/video/movie consumption device thanks to a higher quality display and no need for physical controllers.

“Polished” is a very common sentiment among users. This in itself can be seen as a win—there are so many elements at play across technology types and content segments, so aligning enough of those variables to create a polished experience is no small feat. XR especially is prone to falling down a rabbit hole, where each component can make or break the entire device. If the visuals are incredible, but tracking is poor, the experience is poor; if tracking is excellent, but content is lacking, the device is capable but boring; and so on. Passthrough especially isn’t as simple as it seems, just passing through a video feed. However, there needs to be depth and tracking data to correct for warping, issues with scale, accuracy with movement, and more. There is significant processing involved to create accurate real-time camera passthrough, with Vision Pro’s dual chipsets and Apple’s mature ARKit platform both helping to ensure.

All this considered, two main use cases have been proven for Vision Pro: productivity and content consumption. Productivity is rather straightforward—XR devices are increasingly promising virtual screen use cases as a desirable application. Vision Pro supports true multitasking like a traditional computer (and different from iPhone and iPad that have limited multitasking capability).

For content consumption, a driving factor for Vision Pro’s capability is a confluence of enabling components at an acceptable quality level. Resolution, clarity, and seamlessness have reached a point of enabling media as a primary use case. Three-Dimensional (3D) model viewing has specifically been called out numerous times for the quality Vision Pro showcases. This is another good example of a use case seeming simple, but actually being complex to deliver at high quality. ARKit shows its strength here as well, especially with reactive real-time lighting dependent on the environment. A limited, but impressive content library at launch helps showcase this, and with the assumption that the library will only become bigger and better, it is easy to see Apple’s media ambitions through Vision Pro already.

Specific sales expectations are tough to identify for Apple, so “success” for Vision Pro looks different compared to Quest or other competitors. Even so, it’s hard to see the launch window for Vision Pro as anything but a success. Initial stock has sold out, and future stock will depend on Apple’s desired rate of scale up. The expected target was always 400,000 units sold, and 200,000 sales within the launch window has been confirmed. A strong launch, followed by an expected slowdown through the rest of the year, points to 400,000 units sold being a reasonable expectation.

Spatial Compute, Act 1


In summary, Apple seems to have nailed the fundamentals of a first-generation spatial compute device. Price, comfort, battery life, and content library improvements would all be welcome, and will be expected as time progresses. Vision Pro is accomplishing two things for Apple: it is a unique and new device, but more philosophically, it is the first physical realization of the company’s spatial compute ambitions. The iPhone 15 Pro supports spatial content capture, for example, and we can expect more non-visionOS devices to support spatial capabilities—both capture and consumption—going forward. The services potential for Apple is clear here as well, with opportunities to expand Music, TV, Arcade, and more with spatial content and features. Crucially, Two-Dimensional (2D) content has not been forgotten and is complementary to Vision Pro and spatial compute. There is already significant support for existing 2D apps and content with support for traditional web browsing and iPad applications. This promises that Vision Pro and spatial compute content is not inherently siloed compared to the massive existing content and hardware base for Apple.

It is, of course, too early to say if Apple will succeed in establishing spatial compute truly as the next wave of computing. This should be treated as a first effort, and it seems Apple has succeeded in taming some of the lofty expectations from the community. Comparisons to the initial iPhone launch are valid, although with the caveat of initial pricing being quite different. However, looking at the timeline for the iPhone experience with expanding content libraries and new hardware features, it’s easy to see Vision Pro’s timeline in a similar light. It wasn’t the first device of its kind, and it is far from perfect, but it may be exactly the mix of present day capability and future potential that Apple can build on for years.


Companies Mentioned