Under the Radar

285: Recreational Computing


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 no longer than 30 minutes, so let's get started.

00:00:10   It's time! It's time! Like, when they said "early," they meant "er-ly."

00:00:15   I think, essentially, we're talking about the Apple Vision Pro, which was announced on January 8th, that we have definitive timelines and things for it.

00:00:24   And essentially, it was the earliest that you could reasonably expect them to announce anything in 2024.

00:00:30   You know, it was the first Monday of the first non-holiday week that it was announced.

00:00:36   And so, when they said "early," they really meant it, and it wasn't, you know, "early as in before the summer solstice," no, it was "early as in the first day possible."

00:00:45   I admit that I'm not that surprised, because I've gotten the feeling for a while that it was, you know, it was going to be January or February.

00:00:52   And so, I'm happy to be kind of right about that, because I'm excited about the Vision Pro, honestly.

00:00:58   Excuse me, I'm excited about Apple Vision Pro. Yeah, you cannot use the "you have to use Apple."

00:01:03   Anyway, we're going to set that aside immediately. I'm excited about the Vision Pro, because even though I don't think it's going to be a great story for indie developers in terms of numbers, which we'll talk about,

00:01:17   I don't see the market for indie apps, for any apps on the Vision Pro, being profitable for pretty much anybody for a long time, and possibly forever.

00:01:28   You know, the way I'm looking at it is very much like the Apple TV app market.

00:01:33   There's a role here for apps of a certain type. Not every app makes sense on it, but there is a role for certain apps, but overall it's not going to be like a bustling app market.

00:01:43   The difference, though, is that the Apple TV is a single-purpose appliance to me. I like my Apple TV, but it's a single-purpose appliance, and so I don't really need to do things like, you know, browse real estate listings on it, or some of the other things.

00:01:57   You know, browse my clothing catalog of what I'm shopping for, like the various things they showed off when they first launched apps for the Apple TV.

00:02:03   Most of those things are things I don't really need to do on my TV, or want to do on my TV, and my other devices can do it better.

00:02:10   The difference with the Vision Pro is that, first of all, I think it can do a lot more than just watch movies and stuff.

00:02:17   And while I think it'll be great at watching movies, and that's clearly the launch priority here, it can do a lot more than that, and it's a much more exciting platform.

00:02:24   And it's something that I am actually interested in using for more things than just watching some streaming services like I do on my Apple TV.

00:02:32   So I think the difference with the Vision Pro is not that there will be a larger app market, it won't be, but that I'm more excited about myself, and about jumping into this platform and just messing around with stuff.

00:02:45   Yeah, exactly. Like, the future of TV was not apps, it turns out. But it is possible that the future of computing is spatial, right? Like, that is the unanswered question that I think we're going into all this with sort of the starting point.

00:03:01   Is this different new computing paradigm, you know, is it the compelling thing or the start of the new compelling thing? Like, even if this device itself is not the thing that is going to be the truly transformative device, is this the seed that eventually grows into the next thing?

00:03:19   And who knows, maybe it is, maybe it isn't, but there is something very exciting about being there at the start of something new in that way, that it is a new platform, it is a new thing. It's not the, you know, in some ways, it's like the iPad was a big iPhone and the Apple Watch was a small iPhone in some ways.

00:03:37   This is not really either of those things, like it has a very different character to it and a very different flavor. So it's just exciting. It's just very interesting to see. And it's, I'm also just very excited that we have dates. It was definitely getting a bit tiresome for my planning and sort of just motivation and working out what I should do and when I should do it in what order, not have any dates, at least now I have dates.

00:04:00   And while it's a bit earlier than I was expecting or hoping it was going to be like, I think if I did, if I was just picking a number off on a calendar, I would have probably had a lunch in March, but, you know, January is fine. I can make that work.

00:04:12   And it's just, we're just glad that we actually have dates on this things. And I think it's probably, I mean, I imagine anyone listening to this probably knows the dates, but it's probably just worth saying. So it was announced on the eighth.

00:04:22   So that was, you know, sort of about two weeks ago. And the sort of the flow of it's going to be that as you're likely releasing this, it's going to be tomorrow, the 19th of January is when preorders will open up with delivery happening February 2nd is sort of the earliest state that anyone's going to get their hands on actual hardware.

00:04:43   And in between now and then Apple is, you couldn't, it's like as of recording the submissions for these have closed, but there's also Apple is running two rounds of labs, which I think are worth just mentioning, if you are going to that how to take advantage of that time.

00:04:58   But, you know, essentially in two weeks from now, we're going to have, you know, Apple Vision Pros, hopefully, you know, fingers crossed preorders go well tomorrow. And if that's the case, then we can, you know, start this adventure together.

00:05:09   What is the plural? You think it's like Apple Visions Pro? Yeah, I don't know. Anyway, and this leads into, you know, so you mentioned like this is a little bit earlier than you would have ideally liked.

00:05:20   I'm actually kind of glad that the launch is so early and that I have no chance of being there on launch day with Overcast. Because and this leads into I think our next topic, like, I went to the lab, I ran what I had so far, I, you know, both I ran my iPad app in the compatibility mode.

00:05:37   And I also ran my native in progress rewrite that was, you know, using the native Vision OS UI frameworks and everything. My immediate feeling was, oh, this works. Okay, you know, great. I can leave the iPad checkbox checked. It works. So it's fine for people to use.

00:05:53   And then within maybe 20 minutes of using it, it was very clear to me that both the iPad app and my native in progress version that I'd made so far, which also had like a three column layout and everything, was all wrong for the platform.

00:06:09   It didn't fit in. It didn't feel right. It was immediately obvious to me once you once I use it on the real hardware that my design was fundamentally not right for the platform. And what I really need to do is redesign it completely.

00:06:23   It restructure how things work, you know, use more like horizontal scrolling and grid layouts and stuff like that. Having, you know, fewer elements visible on screen at once.

00:06:32   It was a very different design. And once you are in the hardware, I guess that's the preposition. Once you are in the hardware, it's so different from the simulator. It is radically different.

00:06:45   Like, yeah, the simulator will show you approximately how it might look, but it does not show you how it feels to use it. And how it feels is so important to how we design.

00:06:55   And you are also able to see more of Apple's apps. Like, I spent a good part of my lab time. The labs, you are there like the whole day, so you have something like four or five hours of actual time with the hardware.

00:07:06   So I had a lot of time. And I opened every single other app that was on those devices. And this was pre-release and there were limitations, but I poked around as much as possible just to see like how are Apple's apps laid out?

00:07:19   How do they feel? How do they navigate? How do they work? And that was invaluable. I even did one of the meditations because the meditation app was there. I was like, "Alright, let me meditate. Sure, why not?"

00:07:28   I went to all the different environments. Like, I'm going to sit on top of a mountaintop and stick my overcast window on the side and see how that works and stuff like that.

00:07:35   And that's the kind of thing that you have to do to really know how to develop an app for this platform. Like, all the work you've done in the simulator so far, that's great. That's a good start.

00:07:47   But until you really try it on and have an hour or two with it, you won't really know how it feels. And that dramatically influences the design.

00:07:59   I would say, in broad strokes, think of it like an Apple TV design that you happen to be reaching out with a very long hand to interact with.

00:08:10   The overall impression I got was, "Oh, these apps need to be designed like TV apps." Because that's kind of the physical scale and distance of how they look.

00:08:19   And so, I'm very happy that I had no chance of making day one. Because I think if this was shipping in March, I would have definitely tried to get there on day one.

00:08:29   Now I'm like, "Well, I have no chance of this, so I'm not even going to try." And I'm just so glad that I didn't, I guess. Because I would have been tempted to get there and ship what would end up being a pretty mediocre device.

00:08:40   And I'm actually, or mediocre app, rather. And I'm pretty glad that I'm going to have the hardware, hopefully, we'll see how hard it is to get, but I'm probably going to have the hardware during development before my app gets out there.

00:08:54   So I can actually design and develop it in the headset itself. Since the lab, I've done zero development on that branch of the app. Because the lab taught me, "I'm all wrong with what I've done on the simulator. I need to wait until I have this to really continue with this design and implementation."

00:09:11   And the other thing I would advise you developers for in this area is, you know, Dave, what you said a few minutes ago, that this could be the next big thing, or the next thing. I think tech, we often get obsessed with declaring something the next thing, or hoping something will become the next thing.

00:09:30   But what usually happens in tech is not that one thing replaces something else, we just add more. I really think this is going to be an additive platform, because it really does feel like computing on an Apple TV.

00:09:44   And if you think about how that would feel, that's not a replacement for a Mac, or an iPhone, or an iPad. But similar to how the iPad, when it came out, people tried to use it like a big phone, or they tried to use it like a small Mac, and you can do that.

00:10:04   And there's pluses and minuses. But there are certain things that the iPad is really great at that the other platforms either can't do at all, or do in a much more clunky way. So I'm thinking things like the pencil input.

00:10:15   Anything you do with the Apple pencil on the iPad feels amazing and is awesome. And for people who have that kind of use case where they're illustrators, or they take handwritten notes, or whatever else, there's all these different use cases for the Apple pencil.

00:10:26   And if that's one of your use cases, the iPad is just way better than everything else. But being able to use the pencil on the iPad doesn't replace the need for your Mac to do other things.

00:10:37   And I think the Vision Pro is going to be that kind of thing where you can do tasks that you would do on other devices, you can do them in the Vision Pro.

00:10:48   But the real reason to have the Vision Pro, and the real value of it, and the benefit of it, is in things that only it can do.

00:10:58   So yeah, you can edit your spreadsheet. You can use it as just a computer monitor if you really want to, just showing your Mac screen.

00:11:04   What I think it'll be amazing for is immersive and 3D experiences, of course.

00:11:10   And that's the kind of thing, like, first of all, if you are sentimental at all about anything you can take photos and videos of, especially 3D videos, you're going to want one just to watch them.

00:11:23   That's enough right there. The Vision Pro could have only the Photos app, and I'd still buy one just for that alone.

00:11:29   But there are so many use cases that you just can't do in something else. Obviously, watching 3D video content, that's a huge one.

00:11:40   But any kind of interactive, immersive experience, things like meditation apps, I think that's going to be a significant potential market for the Vision Pro.

00:11:48   I am stressed. Take me somewhere where I can have a bit of a peaceful or mindful experience and get me out of my current stressful world for a few minutes.

00:12:00   That's going to be a huge market for it, I hope, because it's really good for that.

00:12:05   And other stuff, just like, let me listen to my podcast in peace, there's all sorts of smaller versions of that.

00:12:11   One of the most valuable things I did during the lab was, Apple has this sample code, it has a jumping fish and you put it through pipes and everything, whatever that's called, Swift Splash, I think.

00:12:21   You can, with your actual hands, you can take 3D pipes and fit them to each other and they snap in, and then you watch this fish jump into a flow of water and it goes through the pipes and everything.

00:12:32   And it looks real. I'm so happy I ran the sample code, thank you to a friend of the Showcasey list for telling me to run the sample code, I'm so happy I ran the sample code because that showed me, oh my god, this has massive utility if you have this kind of need of having some kind of 3D content that you're manipulating in space or viewing in space.

00:12:56   And so, none of that replaces Mac apps, none of that replaces phone apps, none of that replaces iPad apps. It's its own thing.

00:13:04   And the sooner that we as developers and users realize that it's its own thing, the sooner we can get started on actually embracing what it's great at and taking advantage of it.

00:13:15   If you're thinking this is going to be a big iPad or a big Mac, I think you're wrong, and that's not a bad thing. It's going to be a big Vision Pro. It's its own thing and it has some amazing capabilities, but it's going to take us a while to embrace them.

00:13:32   Sure. I think the thing that I am excited to have one for myself, to hopefully be successful in my pre-order tomorrow, is to, I think I've been able to, I took a different approach. I've built a fully custom version of Widgetsmith for this that I hope to launch on day one.

00:13:51   That's the approach I took, and in many ways, it's one of those, it is not super 3D or immersive in that way. It is much more similar to a version of something that could feel at home on other platforms.

00:14:05   It's enhanced and improved by being in a spatial environment rather than being stuck on a flat screen in that way, but it's a different thing.

00:14:13   I think for me, when I look at this and why I think of, if you're a developer who's thinking of purchasing a device and whether it's worth it or not, I think is a question that I've seen many people talk about.

00:14:23   It's certainly not an inexpensive device. I think, and this is the approach that I've told myself about this thing that I've been working on and getting close to being ready to ship, is that I believe that I can only make a good app in the simulator.

00:14:38   I cannot make a great app in the simulator. That in order to make a great app, a truly awesome, amazing thing, you need to be on the device that ultimately your users and customers are going to be experiencing the app on.

00:14:51   That I can make it good, I'm not trying to ship something that is low quality or that doesn't work or has any of those kinds of things, but the understanding of what is the fundamental importance of the device and how it's used and what behaviors and gestures and things

00:15:07   are natural and intuitive, that is all going to come from the actual use of the device. And so for me, I'm in a place of what I think is, it's like, I want to have a device because I understand that this is not the end point.

00:15:20   I'm not trying to get to February 2nd and ship the finished thing. That is the starting line of the race, not the finishing line.

00:15:30   But in order for me to get to that finishing line in a really helpful, constructive way, the thing that I find is often super helpful is to have an app out there, have a good app out there and start to listen to customers and listen to what happens and be part of that process of exploring how this works, how it's useful, what are the drawbacks, what are the places where, oh wow, when your app is used this way, that's really cool, or if I use it this way, that's not so cool, or if there's ideas or things that people suggest.

00:15:58   That process, from my experience, it's not that you have to be there right at the beginning, but until you're there, you can't start that process. And so for me, that's the kind of mindset that I'm taking with this, is that I've gotten Widget Smith to a place that I think is very good, I'm proud of what I've been able to accomplish,

00:16:16   but I'm also tempering that with the expectation that it's going to be in three or four months into the future when the app really becomes what it's going to actually be and kind of come into its own. Or I mean, it's entirely possible that it turns out the app isn't useful, and that's great to know in some ways too, but my suspicion is it will go the other way, that it's like I'll be able to improve and develop and make the app something special once it's actually able to be out there and add something that I can use on a daily basis, other people can use on a daily basis,

00:16:45   and we can use it in the way that is actually natural and intuitive for it.

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00:18:18   So something that is also I think worth talking about is the phenomenon of the day one release. It's kind of a funny thing, but it's like I've been there for the day one of every Apple platform since, I guess, I didn't quite make the iPhone, but since then I've been there for all the platforms except for tvOS, I suppose.

00:18:42   But I've certainly been there a lot and certainly every iOS release is a day one experience and I just wanted to talk about that briefly in terms of items. It's not something that you're necessarily chasing after, and not that I think anyone should be chasing it, but it's

00:18:56   there's something interesting about day one. There is something special about trying to be there at the very start. And a lot of that is purely emotional, not rational or interesting in that it's not like it's from a business case or any of those kind of perspectives. It's not important in that way, but I think there is something fun about being there at the start of something and I think that's why for me,

00:19:19   I've prioritized being ready to be there. And part of how I've done that is by scoping down, you know, what I'm ultimately going to ship to something that I think I can get a really good solid version with a very core, you know, sort of the core kernel of the idea and put that out there and have that ready.

00:19:40   But I think the other thing I would mention about being there on day one is to understand that it's you are putting yourself in an awkward place, because you want to be careful about committing yourself in a particular direction. Because like we were just saying until you actually the device is out in the field and people are using it and you're using it and it's a much more solid thing.

00:20:00   You may be finding that you're going down a path that isn't the ultimately correct path or the best path for your app. And so it's something that I've started to learn from my experiences because I mean, I've done this many times.

00:20:12   Like when I think about how when Apple Watch launched, or I guess when WatchKit apps launched, I launched eight Apple Watch apps on day one, which only one still exists. So I didn't have a great hit rate, nor does it have a 12% success rate. But I learned a lot through that process.

00:20:32   And I think what was in some ways, the thing I learned from that most is it's like I wanted to ship on day one, things that I have much higher confidence that I think are going to work out.

00:20:46   I don't know that they're going to work out, but the speculative kind of just like throwing things into the air approach was something that I think I've slightly outgrown, because I feel like I want to make things that are a bit more solid. And I'm by scoping things down, I can make sure that the core experience that I think I'm sort of somewhat committing myself to is something that I have some confidence in rather than just sort of like wildly doing that.

00:21:09   And I mean, there's only something fun about making little experiments and things and so on. Like, I think that's cool, and I enjoy it. But maybe that's less of a priority for me now that I want to make a core experience that is a very good experience.

00:21:23   And then, you know, sort of be able to be much more flexible and dispute if the app needs to grow in a different direction. I haven't spent all this time, energy or created customer expectations, that it's going to serve all of these purposes, if it turns out, only one of them is actually the one

00:21:38   that is that is valuable to me.

00:21:40   Also, there is there is a substantial indie developer opportunity here, especially, you know, especially being there early in a market like this, but there's a huge indie developer opportunity here. Because you know, one of the great things about being independent is that you can do things that way bigger companies just won't do.

00:21:58   In this case, like I don't see big companies adopting vision Pro for a long time, if ever, just because there is not going to be anywhere near the install base to for them to justify it. I mean, most big companies have enough trouble adopting even the iPad.

00:22:12   So this this stands no chance for most of them. But as an indie, you can adopt it just because you think it's cool, or you think it has potential in the future, or you have one yourself and you want your app to be on it.

00:22:24   And that gives us a certain degree of power here. Because, yes, while the market is small, it is to some degree, a bit of a land grab. And so you can kind of stake out a market for your app on this platform, even though it's a very small market to start.

00:22:40   Because then what if it's a bigger market down the road? And even if it's not, it is possible to capture value from it. It's just different than when you're capturing value from, say, the entire iPhone market.

00:22:51   If you're trying to capture value from the iPhone market, you have to be really low price, you know, things pretty much have to be free and have some way to monetize separately after the fact.

00:22:59   And you kind of make it up on volume because there's just so much volume. With vision Pro, it's much more it's more like, you know, a specialized enterprise app, the install base is going to be small and wealthy.

00:23:10   And so this is actually an opportunity if you have something that can be high value to that small group, you can charge good money for it in this case. And you can stake out a market that way.

00:23:22   Again, I think it's going to be a tough market just because it's going to be so small to start. But there is a market there. And as an indie, you'll be one of the only people competing in that market because the big companies probably won't go near it.

00:23:35   And that, to some degree, you know, it does make it a little bit hard to justify business wise in terms of just raw number of potential here. But for long term strategy, I think this is actually a decent indie opportunity.

00:23:47   And even if nothing else, as indies, we have the ability to just make something because we want it. So if you want to go get a vision Pro because it's cool and not have to justify it as like, well, maybe I'll do my business spreadsheets and it like you won't.

00:24:01   But you can just buy it because it's cool. And almost everyone who buys one in this first year is buying it just because they think it's cool. That's it. Like that's the reason. And you can buy it because you think it's cool. That's fine. That's okay.

00:24:11   And then you can make an app for it just because you think it's cool. There's nothing wrong with that. As long as you can like, you know, afford the time and the money in other ways. Like this could just be a hobby. And that's fine.

00:24:21   And if it becomes a business later, hey, that's that's a great benefit. But we have the luxury, the luxury here as indies of being able to do things that don't have a clear business case immediately. And we should take advantage of that more.

00:24:33   Yeah. And I think there is something in there too. I've heard a couple of people sort of with the joking. I mean, probably just joking of the sort of like how many in-app purchases of their whatever their app is, are they're going to need to pay for the vision Pro. And I think that model or that way of thinking is is kind of slightly backwards in the sense of it's I think I'm getting a vision Pro and working on developing apps for it for the long term.

00:24:59   You know, so sort of hopefully viable, interesting business case that I can make for this platform. But that is unlikely to manifest for a long time that the app once the platform has scale and has maturity and we've worked out what are the things that are truly where the value can come from as app makers.

00:25:17   That is where the business case is going to come from. I don't think that business case is going to come in a meaningful way to start with. And I mean, it's really one of those things that I've wrestled with a bunch in this. But at least for me right now, my plan is when I launch widgets Smith on vision Pro, at least for the initial period, I'm not going to charge anything in it.

00:25:35   It's just going to be like the premium features will be free and there's a message messaging in the app around this but it's like what I want is people to use the app. And also I as sort of philosophically have the in my mind, I only ever want to sell something that I am confident is worth the price that I'm charging for it.

00:25:53   And I don't feel that yet for this platform because I haven't used it in my day to day life on a regular basis. I don't know what's worthwhile, what's worth it. And what I don't want to do is to charge for something that I'm hoping and guessing and maybe it'll kind of be worthwhile.

00:26:09   I expect to charge eventually I expect to find the things that will be worth charging for and charge for them at that point, but it was something that I was working through this. And when I was kind of like getting to the part of the process where I was like going to need to, you know, build my purchase flow and all these things and I'm like, I just don't know if it's worth it yet.

00:26:26   So I don't know if that's a controversial opinion or whatever, but it's like rather than starting with like, I've heard people say, Oh, you can charge more on Vision Pro. It's like, maybe I don't know, like, I but I don't have I really don't want to do is charge more in Vision Pro. And then it turned out it's what I was selling wasn't worth the price that that I was charging like that is far worse to me then.

00:26:46   The sort of potentially missing out on a little bit of day one revenue in the hopes of setting myself better to be able to charge the for, you know, the right price for the right things down the road.

00:26:59   That's a wise way to do things. And because when you take money that that brings with it a bunch of obligation and burden expectations and exactly and you know, it brings problems and if you're not prepared for that, or if you're not confident that you'll be able to handle them, then that could be a problem. I mean, you know, there's lots of areas in in tech, where people put in effort to make things where there's not much of a business case, or they're not going to make any money. I mean, look, like people, like, especially in the games market, people make hobbyist games all the time.

00:27:24   You know, people make like things for Pico eight, or even like people who make like playdate games, how much of a market is there? Like it's, it's probably not doing that for the money. They're doing it because this is the thing that they find fun and it looks cool and they want to try it and just just to make something.

00:27:37   It's like recreational development. And I think looking at vision Pro, everyone says it's all about spatial computing. I would say vision Pro is recreational computing. It is not about making money. It is not about justifying why you need this for your job or whatever. It's recreational computing.

00:27:55   You're going to put it on and it's going to be cool and you're going to run apps that are going to give you cool experiences. And that's fine. As a user, you're not going to get much work done in it. As a developer, you're not going to make much money on it. It's recreational for now.

00:28:09   And if it ever becomes anything down the road, that's more than that, great. But walk into it with open eyes at first. This is just cool. And I'm not going to be able to justify it or make money from it. And that's okay.

00:28:22   Yeah, and I think it's the understanding too. It's like, I think it's cool. I think it is exciting. And I think the best way to discover if it is going to be something more than recreation is to be there and to be part of it. And I would encourage anyone who has the means and is able to dive into it and get into that. And I think it's exciting. It's fun.

00:28:42   Being there at the early stages of a platform is cool. Some platforms fizzle, some platforms explode, like you never know. But being there is a prerequisite to being part of that. And so, you know, that's exciting. I look forward to it. Good luck with everyone with your pre-orders tomorrow. I guess, hopefully, we all are able to get a hold of what we want so that we can be part of this experiment.

00:29:04   Thanks for listening, everybody. And we'll talk to you in two weeks. Bye.

00:29:09   [ Silence ]