Under the Radar

271: Developer Prospects for visionOS


00:00:00   Welcome to Under the Radar, a show about independent iOS app development. I'm Marco Arment.

00:00:05   And I'm David Smith. Under the Radar is usually not longer than 30 minutes, so let's get started.

00:00:10   So we have something incredible that hardly comes along, maybe every five years at most.

00:00:16   We have a new platform coming out of Apple, using all Apple's tech, using all of the languages and frameworks that we know.

00:00:24   But it's a whole new platform, and that is VisionOS. And this is, you know, to me, on so many levels, this is fascinating, this is exciting.

00:00:36   I really, you know, we don't really know where it's going to go yet, because we don't even have it yet.

00:00:42   You know, we don't even, at this moment as we record, we don't even have the SDK yet.

00:00:45   But, you know, we're getting the SDK shortly. We're going to have the hardware coming out to consumers and presumably be available to us,

00:00:53   you know, quote, early next year. And there might be some kind of dev kit story in the meantime, but we don't really know anything about that yet.

00:01:00   But this is super exciting. And this is, in part because, again, it's just a new platform from Apple.

00:01:10   And sometimes new platforms from Apple are less of a big market for us than others.

00:01:17   You know, when the iPad came out, that was a big deal, because we had all this excitement around the iPhone, we knew this thing's probably going to be a big hit.

00:01:26   And it was. You know, when the Apple Watch came out, it was really hard to develop for because of the limitations of the hardware and the early frameworks that it had.

00:01:34   It was a miserable experience to develop for at first, but then it slowly became a better platform to develop for.

00:01:40   And now, it's still limited in terms of physical screen space and stuff like that and different processing limits.

00:01:47   But overall, it's become a pretty good market if you have an app that is relevant for the watch.

00:01:52   But that's a big if. You know, Apple TV, relatively small platform, relatively small market.

00:01:58   It makes sense for apps if you need to be on a TV, but that's a big if.

00:02:03   But Vision OS, I feel like, is better. It's definitely a more exciting prospect to me than TV apps.

00:02:11   Definitely a more exciting prospect to me than iMessage apps when those came out and everything.

00:02:17   I think it might even be possibly better than the watch in terms of long-term market for our apps.

00:02:25   And it could be that so many apps make sense in this. It's basically a new kind of general purpose computing interface.

00:02:33   You know, the watch has always been limited by its size and everything.

00:02:35   Vision OS won't have that limit. It'll be just general computing.

00:02:39   And so I think this is a very exciting... I think it's going to start slowly, and we'll get into that and everything.

00:02:45   But I think once this market gets going, and I think it will get going...

00:02:49   Again, it might take a few years, but once it gets going, this is a new general purpose computing platform.

00:02:56   And I think that's very exciting to us as developers because many different app types make sense to bring to that.

00:03:03   There will be a market for many different app types, unlike these more specialized platforms like the watch and the TV.

00:03:08   This is going to be on the level of iPad or Mac.

00:03:13   It won't be on the level of iPhone in terms of sheer volume and everything.

00:03:16   It's going to be on the level of iPad and Mac in the long term.

00:03:19   And that to me is very exciting.

00:03:21   Yeah, exactly. I couldn't be more excited about this platform.

00:03:25   I think it is fascinating to see a style of interaction, a style of computing, that is in some ways the polar opposite of mobile computing, but in a good way.

00:03:39   That it is the, rather than being constrained to processing on a tiny little device that has a small screen and relatively limited computational power and battery life and those kinds of constraints.

00:03:54   It's like, no, instead you have an infinite canvas and you're running an M2 processor to start with, which is quite a starting point.

00:04:01   If you compare it to, like you were saying, the Apple Watch, which was kind of slow to start.

00:04:04   It's like, no, no, this is running the same chip that is in the MacBook Air, which is a very performant, very capable device that can do a whole lot of things.

00:04:13   And so it's like the starting point for something like this is so huge.

00:04:16   And then it's hard to predict the future with this.

00:04:20   Obviously, I see it as something, and it's something we can get into, but I had the opportunity to try it for 30 minutes.

00:04:27   And it's like, I want one now. I want to go back.

00:04:30   I want to be back where that was. And that experience was so compelling that as a developer and as someone who can see possibilities that running an app natively on it is going to be so transformative to the way in which you can interact with it versus just being a Mac app, for example.

00:04:47   Or you can run your iPhone or iPad app natively, sort of semi-natively on it, but not really.

00:04:52   Don't do that.

00:04:54   Just run natively, and it's going to be such a wonderful, rich experience that I'm super excited. And these things only happen every so often.

00:05:01   I think you and I have both been fortunate enough to have been part of many of these.

00:05:05   I think we were both here for the start of the iPhone, the start of the iPad, the start of the Apple Watch.

00:05:11   And now we're here for the start of Vision OS and Apple Vision Pro.

00:05:15   That's exciting. That's a really cool place to be because I think there is something different about coming to a platform from the beginning and watching it grow up and working on it as it grows up.

00:05:26   That you can just be your level of intuition about the platform, your level of knowledge, your experience, and your ability to craft the future of it.

00:05:35   One of us, one of the listeners under the radar, come up with a transformative app that everyone must have, and it changes the way that Apple thinks about the platform, which is entirely possible.

00:05:48   That will define the future of this platform, and it's kind of amazing and awesome to think about it in those terms.

00:05:53   That at this point, all Apple has is their own apps and their own perspectives and their own thoughts about this platform.

00:05:59   But they've given us a starting point that is extremely capable, that is extremely performant, that isn't stuck in a lot of ways that some of the Apple Watch was limited to start with and is in some ways limited now.

00:06:13   This seems very much the opposite. They've gone the other extreme, and we can do anything and everything on this platform.

00:06:19   That is super exciting. As someone who designs and comes up with apps and ideas, and if anything, I've made my career out of coming up with new ideas for new things.

00:06:29   This is just making my mind explode in terms of the number of ideas or thoughts that I can have.

00:06:35   What do you do if you have a powerful computer that can have an infinite canvas and do lots of things all at the same time? Whoa, that's huge.

00:06:44   I think the startup dynamics of this market are going to be a little bit different from what we've seen with these past Apple platform launches.

00:06:53   The iPhone App Store market launched a year after the iPhone launched, and so there was already a year of unit sales of this device.

00:07:03   It was super high demand. And even though, obviously, if you compare the original iPhone sales figures to more recent ones, it was a drop in the bucket.

00:07:11   But at the time, it was a big market. So we landed on the App Store on day one there into an existing huge market.

00:07:18   When the iPad came out, that was assumed to be a big market because they had this momentum from the iPhone.

00:07:25   The iPad came out a few years later, and it indeed was a pretty big market right from the start.

00:07:31   Again, watch and TV were complicated. I think Vision Pro is going to start out with being a pretty small market, in part just because it's a $3,500 product that is launching only in the U.S. to start, and then other countries, I believe, later next year.

00:07:49   It's even out for possibly up to almost a year from now. That's when it's all beginning. They say early next year, but that could really mean up to May, I think.

00:08:01   So really, this could be still almost a year out before anybody can buy it. And then it's going to have, I think, a few years of warm-up period before it's really a high-volume product.

00:08:12   And it might take another hardware revision or two before we get to a point where they have something that's a little bit more consumer-friendly pricing and a little bit higher volume production, maybe.

00:08:21   So I think what that dynamic will do is it will give us, at first, there's not going to be a ton of money to be made here, but I don't think it's going to have the same instant race to the bottom as the other platforms have, because developer feeling on Vision Pro that I've heard so far is kind of a mixed bag.

00:08:49   Many developers come from PC hardware culture. I come from there. That's why I understand it.

00:08:59   And a lot of people from that point of view see this as way too expensive and not necessary or not that exciting.

00:09:10   And so I think there's going to be less competition, at least to start. There will definitely be less to start. But I don't think this… I think the lack of a gold rush dynamic here will actually create more sustainable markets for those of us who are there early on.

00:09:28   Secondly, this is a premium device to start. Now, again, this will cost it in unit sales for sure. This is not going to be a high-volume product for many, many years. But that means the people who are there, I think it might end up being more like the Mac software market than the iPhone software market, in the sense of I think you'll be able to charge more sustainable prices.

00:09:51   Obviously, I expect it to inherit the App Store model of everything, and so I expect upgrade pricing and stuff not to be there and for things to be mostly subscription-based in terms of their business models and everything.

00:10:04   Probably free up front and IAP subscriptions for your revenue. I expect that to be the norm here.

00:10:11   But I think you'll be able to charge decent prices because it is a higher-end product with a higher-end market to start. And I think there will be less competition and therefore it will be lower volume software available, which will help your prices again.

00:10:24   But I don't think this is going to be a very profitable market for a while simply because of that lack of volume.

00:10:31   So I think it's going to actually be kind of nice in the sense that it might be a little bit quieter than the iOS market in general is. And that's going to be a good way for us to really experiment with this platform and to figure out what it's good for and test out new ideas in it without the mad rush of everyone from the iPhone App Store trying to rush in there and make a buck with the zero volume that this product is going to have at the beginning.

00:11:00   So while this is kind of not super exciting for most people's businesses in terms of just straight up revenue right up front, I think it will be very exciting for experimentation, for pushing boundaries, for opening up new markets, figuring out what new markets exist.

00:11:17   And it'll kind of have a nice gradual warm-up into the market as opposed to being dropped into a volcano of lava. That's kind of how the App Store feels on the iPhone.

00:11:30   Yeah, I mean, that's funny. I think I have maybe just history and the App Stores have given me an inherent sense of skepticism that there won't be a sort of the same pricing dynamics and kind of competitive environment as we have on iOS. We won't be present here.

00:11:47   And maybe I'm just overly skeptical there. But I think either way, whether or not it is that there is a kind of a higher base price or less price sensitivity or if there's a period where that is the case, I think it is not a platform that like any of the new platforms other than perhaps the iPhone, which had a very, you know, the iPhone is unique in every way, so you can't really particularly draw lessons from it broadly.

00:12:11   But I think there's definitely, it's a platform that I'm excited to be on, not necessarily to make money, because that is very uncertain. That it's like if you wanted a better, like a sure thing, like make a compelling app for the iPhone where you have, you know, a billion users on day one.

00:12:27   And, you know, even if you capture a tiny proportion of people or can have any amount of, you know, excitement, you can sort of see, you know, have a very big market. It's like, this is not going to be that platform. But I'm excited for what the future of that is that, like these having a sustainable business there is in many ways, something that likely may grow over time.

00:12:45   And I think having experience and expertise and establishing a name and a brand for yourself as a vision, you know, a vision os developer is useful in that way. And it's like, who knows if that's, you know, the sustainability of that from a business perspective is going to be so dependent on your circumstances and your situation that I think is makes it difficult.

00:13:05   That's like hard to predict. But in some ways, I'm putting that consideration in some ways to the side in my mind, because I'm trying to make a long term investment in the future, rather than necessarily worrying too much about, you know, the income that this might generate for me, you know, from whenever it launches next year for the next year or two, like I'm expecting that over the, you know, I'm setting myself up for in five years being an expert in this platform when this platform is much more widely adopted, much more accessible.

00:13:34   From a pricing perspective, once the dynamics of it have kind of settled in themselves, and I'm going into it with that perspective and being comfortable with that, which is not something that necessarily everyone can do. I understand that. But for me, like, that's the thing that I, I hear this discussion of it's like, Oh, is it gonna rush to the bottom? Is it going to be a totally new thing? Like, in some ways, the iPad when it launched had a higher setpoint to start with. And then I feel like it kind of came down and eventually matched iOS. Is it going to be something like that? Like, I don't know, that's like I need a crystal ball for something like that.

00:14:03   But either way, I'm happy. Because I think the platform itself is compelling. And that is the part that I think is more interesting. And I have more certainty on that. It doesn't, you know, I have much more confidence that this isn't going to be Apple TV or iMessage, you know, where it's a platform for apps that exists, but doesn't actually go anywhere. I feel like because it's a platform that's going somewhere, there's going to be a viable business that exists on a platform that is super awesome and amazing.

00:14:32   And it's going to engender great goodwill with customers. Like that's just the reality that is that is history has shown me that if you can, if there is a platform where people love using your apps, there will be a viable business model there. It may not be the business model you want, it may not work for everyone. But some business model will exist there. And exactly what that is, we will explore and find as a community. And, you know, as we see, like, is this out of to your point, I don't know how competitive of an environment it's going to be. It's really, it's going to be a really, really good platform.

00:15:01   And I think it's going to be really interesting and kind of challenging to predict that is this going to be something where there's going to be, you know, 1000 vision pro apps natively on day one, or is it going to be 100,000? Or is it going to be a million? Like, all of those numbers seem possible to me. And obviously, the impact that would have on the competitive landscape are wildly different. So like, who knows, but either way, it's like, I'm excited to get started. It's just kind of complicated to think, which way is it, you know, which way the wind's gonna blow? Like, I don't know.

00:15:31   We are brought to you this episode by Indeed. No successful entrepreneur is an island. It takes a core team of trusted advisors to help build a business from the ground up. When it comes to hiring, leave it to the experts. You need Indeed. Indeed is a hiring partner that gets you what you really want, a short list of quality candidates as fast as possible, simply because you can do it all, attract, interview and hire all at Indeed.

00:15:54   You don't want to struggle on your own to find quality candidates, and you don't have to. Indeed can help you hire the right people right now. They partner with you on every step of the hiring process, so you can find talent with the skills you need through tools like Indeed Instant Match, assessments and virtual interviews.

00:16:09   With Instant Match, as soon as you sponsor a post, you get a short list of quality candidates whose resumes match your job description, and you can even invite them to apply right away.

00:16:17   Indeed really does make the hiring process so easy. By having all the tools in one place, it takes away so much of what can otherwise be a daunting process. Their data shows that with Instant Match, 90% of employers get quality candidates the moment they sponsor a job post, and candidates are three times more likely to apply than those who just see it in search.

00:16:37   So get started right now with a $75 sponsored job credit to upgrade your job post at Indeed.com/undertheradar. That's a $75 credit at Indeed.com/undertheradar.

00:16:49   One last time, Indeed.com/undertheradar. Offer valid through December 31st. Terms and conditions apply. Need to hire? You need Indeed.

00:16:58   Our thanks to Indeed for their support of this show. I think one major difference with VisionOS as compared to launching into iOS, and how do I put this nicely?

00:17:13   Look, I'm an iOS developer. You're an iOS developer. Many of you out there are iOS developers. iOS apps on the whole, not our apps of course, iOS apps on the whole are garbage. They are terrible. And as iPhone owners, we all know this.

00:17:28   Because whenever we have to download an app for some, you know, our new dentist office or to make an appointment with our vet, or, "Oh, I just got this new scanner. It needs an app to set it up." Most apps we have to install are awful garbage. Or if you're on the go and you're like, "Oh, I really need an app that can, like, you know, rotate this photo at a 45 degree angle and add a blur to this one part."

00:17:49   And then you go try to find that in the app store, and it's just garbage after garbage after garbage. And I think a large part of that is, of course, the gold rush dynamic that we've had and the massive install base that creates that gold rush dynamic.

00:18:00   But also, I feel like there's kind of a, you know, there's kind of a lack of standards at a lot of levels in iOS, both on Apple's end and on consumers' end, and certainly on developers' end. Again, not us. We are better. But, you know, there's a lot of crap there.

00:18:16   One thing that, you know, with VisionOS, I think one thing that's different, and I think this is a big thing, not a small thing, is that people pick up their phone or they get a new watch or they get a new iPad, and everyone says, "This is nice. This is fine."

00:18:33   I don't know a lot of people who were totally blown away by their phone, their watch, and their iPad. And that's not to say these aren't great devices. They are, and they're going to continue to be, like, the focal point of our digital lives for the foreseeable future.

00:18:47   But when people who have tried Vision Pro, and by the way, I am so envious that you've got it right. I should say, I have no bad feelings towards you for having gotten to try it because you're the nicest person in the world and you totally earn it.

00:18:59   I just wish I could have gotten to try it myself. But I'm glad you did. Anyway, so people who have tried Vision Pro, they are not just like, "Yeah, that was nice."

00:19:11   No, like, look across the internet at the press reviews of the MacBook Air, of the Mac Studio, and then of the Vision Pro demo experiences. And it's a very, very different experience.

00:19:24   The Macs are great products. They're the products we're all going to be actually using to get all or most of our work done for years to come. However, the people who come out of the Vision Pro demo are like, "Oh my god, it blows their mind."

00:19:38   And they are so massively impressed. It breaks their brains. It is literally like a mind-blowing experience. And that is going to also affect the market for apps. No one is going to take this mind-blowing experience and on day one stick an app in the corner of their virtual room that has a giant ad on the bottom and is popping up interstitials constantly as they try to crop a photo.

00:20:06   I think while that hellscape may eventually occur in the long term, I'm hoping that first of all the dynamics of the market being so much lower volume will keep a lot of that stuff from even being made, let alone succeeding.

00:20:24   I do think there will be a day one attempt at a gold rush, and then all of the opportunistic people will quickly realize, "Oh, there's not enough money to be made here," and that will quickly get hollowed out and will not continue to the same level of strength.

00:20:40   But I think customer expectations of quality will be higher because you're in this amazing mind-blowing new platform. And there are higher standards, too. Obviously, if your app just runs in a little rectangle, which will be the default for most things, you can crap up your little rectangle with ads and crap.

00:21:03   But I feel like this platform is going to reward quality a little bit more. Now, look, I know it would be naive of me to say that it will be anything like the old Mac software days where there were only three companies making apps.

00:21:16   You could charge $70 and it was fine, and people value quality. No, it's not going to be like that. It's going to be closer to iOS than that.

00:21:23   But this platform is a very different platform on so many levels. Volume, customer loyalty to it, or customer involvement in it, or customer expectations of it.

00:21:38   This is going to be a platform that will reward quality in the near term. And it's not going to be that high-volume platform that's going to attract all the opportunistic, scammer, wall-of-ads kind of apps for a while.

00:21:51   So this is our chance, as developers who believe we make high-quality apps, this is our chance to own that platform for a little while.

00:22:01   For at least the first few years, I think it will mostly be ours to do whatever we want with. Again, kind of similar to how the iPad was, but even lower volume.

00:22:10   Right now, iPad apps and games are kind of closer to the iPhone level than I think we would like in terms of some of these angles.

00:22:19   But the first couple years of the iPad, it was a very different experience. The first couple years of the iPad, you had a lot more high-quality developers making high-quality apps, because they didn't know the market sucked yet.

00:22:31   Obviously, it's better now, but back then it was less good. You had high-quality developers, high-quality apps. Games weren't all IAP garbage yet.

00:22:41   It was a nicer experience being on the iPad that first year or two before it really got crapped up. I think that span on Vision Pro is going to be longer.

00:22:52   We're going to have a much longer period on Vision Pro just because it is so high-priced and it is so specialized and high-end to start.

00:23:00   Maybe five years from now, there might be one at $1500 that is more friendly. Even that is not a mass market price.

00:23:12   It's funny. When you look at Facebook's headsets, their highest-end headset was $1500 until recently. They dropped it to $1000, I believe. That was their highest end.

00:23:22   It's going to take Apple probably five years to make a product that hits even that. That Facebook high-end headset is not a high-volume product.

00:23:30   Obviously, Apple's is substantially nicer and better. I think we have a number of years before we're going to be in a mass marketplace.

00:23:43   I find that interesting and exciting because it allows us to enjoy the upside of that kind of market and to sharpen our skills for it and to figure out what works.

00:23:57   That aspect that you're talking about there is such a tremendous opportunity for the small and independent, high-taste developer. I don't know how to best describe us, but the kind of person who listens to Under the Radar is the kind of person who values quality software, who wants things to be thoughtfully designed and carefully executed.

00:24:19   I think that's the kind of developers that you and I are. If you want to listen to us every other week, I imagine that's the kind of things that you might want to hold yourself to as well.

00:24:29   I think this platform, as a new platform, has a tremendous opportunity for that kind of development to be the thing that is the default and the expectation if we do the work to make that possible and can hopefully set the bar such that that's what users come to expect from a Vision Pro app.

00:24:54   That it is beautifully designed and thoughtfully executed. If we do that, and if that's successful, it might not last forever. Eventually, there are certain forces that are caustic to that.

00:25:05   That inevitably, once it gets a certain volume, certain other forces come into play. But I think certainly in that initial period, it is exciting for me to be developing on a platform where my competition is potentially aligned in that way.

00:25:20   And we're all trying to make the best app possible, not something that is trying to go big and is this casino-based, maximum average lifetime per customer, long-term value.

00:25:37   Those aren't the metrics that we're being judged on. The metrics that we are being judged on are how awesome our app is. And I think from my experience, having been in there, it's one of those things that is fascinating.

00:25:51   If you imagine the size of an ad on an iPhone app, like you have a banner ad in it, which I'm not opposed to those. They're in my apps because on iOS, the platform pressure puts them there. The equivalent ad in Vision Pro would be like a billboard.

00:26:11   And putting a billboard in my living room does not sound great.

00:26:15   Don't give them any ideas. You know they're going to do that.

00:26:17   I'm sure it's going to exist. But from my perspective, I think my resistance to that, the amount of ad banner blindness you have to have developed in order to ignore a giant billboard flashing in your living room is pretty high.

00:26:33   I don't expect a very high tolerance for those kinds of things in the apps that I use in the six space. And I think for me especially, I look at this platform in many ways as a retreat platform. It is the thing that I am most excited on personally.

00:26:47   The moment of the demo that totally sold me was the thing where you go into an environment, you turn the digital crown, and you're somewhere else. And for me, you're in nature. I love being in nature.

00:26:58   That is my happy place. I wish I could be there more than I am. And I'm in nature as much as I can. And being able to be there, the last thing I'm going to want is anything in that space that doesn't fit that vibe.

00:27:11   That doesn't fit that expectation of, "I'm going to this place because I want to go and write an article. And so I'm going to go to, I'm going to pick a pick, whatever my environment is for writing.

00:27:22   In my mind, it's going to be, I'm going to go into a forest, I'm going to sit down, and I'm going to do some writing. That sounds amazing. That is not an experience that I want anything other than clean, thoughtfully designed apps in because it would totally ruin the vibe.

00:27:35   And so that's a totally different kind of mentality or mindset that I'm going into than when I'm picking up my phone to do something.

00:27:43   So yeah, I'm excited as a developer. And honestly, for whatever you and I can communicate this in this show, I hope that if you're a developer who is coming to VisionOS or a designer who's coming to VisionOS, that is the mindset that you are bringing.

00:27:59   That this is a great opportunity, a reset point for us as a community to make beautiful apps that are thoughtfully designed. And if we do that, I think it's going to be an awesome place to start. I think it will be super cool. And the pricing dynamics and all the other things that go on with that, it's like, "Sure, but let's make something beautiful. Let's make something awesome.

00:28:16   Let's put in that effort," because I think it's a platform where that will shine and the impact that that extra work of doing the extra 10% of design work, the extra 10% of development work to make things just really pop and be amazing is going to shine in a way that we've never experienced before.

00:28:33   Because it is such a fundamentally different platform. It is such a fundamentally different user interaction model. It's such a totally different place that it feels like you're interacting with it with your thoughts rather than with your actions, which is a weird thing to say.

00:28:48   And it's like, "I just can't wait until everyone else has had the opportunity to try it because it's totally transformative and I want the best apps and the best experiences on this platform." So consider this my plea to the world. If you're an app developer, make something awesome for this.

00:29:03   Blow my mind and blow everyone else's mind with how cool and creative and thoughtfully designed the thing that you've made is and then how awesome will that be that this wonderful, beautiful new thing will have arrived into the world. How awesome is that?

00:29:17   Yeah, it was the right move to give you a demo. Good. They were correct.

00:29:22   I'm very grateful.

00:29:23   All right. Thank you everybody. Thank you everybody for listening. I want to thank Christopher Lawley. He's Chris Lawley on YouTube. It helped us had a great deal with the ad recording last week. Kind of saved my butt there. So thanks to Chris Lawley. Check out his YouTube channel. Thank you everybody for listening and we will talk to you in two weeks.

00:29:41   Bye.

00:29:42   Bye

00:29:42   All right.