Under the Radar

289: Vision Pro Numbers


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.

00:00:09   So we are well into the era of the Vision Pro being a real product that we really have and can really use with our real apps.

00:00:18   And so this is interesting, you know, we were anticipating this for, you know, since last summer and even a little bit before that, kind of thinking when it was still rumored.

00:00:26   Now the Apple Vision Pro is here. I think we've had enough time with it to kind of have a better understanding now of like here's what this is so far versus like what it might be someday.

00:00:38   Here's what it's good at, here's what it's not so good at, here's the reality of the app market so far.

00:00:44   And so we thought this would be a good time to finally address, you know, the Vision Pro out in the world now.

00:00:49   You know, what are we doing with it, what are we planning to do with it, how is it looking so far?

00:00:54   Yeah, and I think it's an interesting time to do that because I think we had talked a little bit about, oh, should we do an episode fairly soon after the launch about our experience.

00:01:03   And I think it was just too soon and it's like with such a new and novel platform.

00:01:07   It is hard, our impressions and our experience both as users and as developers that first week or the first two weeks or three weeks is just not necessarily helpful for anyone.

00:01:19   Because what I think is much more useful is probably to get a sense of, you know, it's still very young because we don't know the long, long term trajectory of this platform.

00:01:29   But at this point, you know, almost two weeks or two months later, we have a much better sense of it.

00:01:34   You have a sense of, you know, all the graphs and things that I have in App Store Connect or in terms of my user base or things like that.

00:01:40   You know, there's this period where they zoom up and then they tend to come down and settle at a level.

00:01:45   And I think at this point, you know, they've settled at that level and so until there's something dramatically, you know, some other external factor happens, that's likely where they'll be hanging out.

00:01:53   And so that baseline level is much more useful to talk about than where you, you know, what the up and down thing that only lasts a few days or a few weeks looks like.

00:02:01   So that's sort of where we are now.

00:02:02   Yeah. So let's, you know, before we get into the business side of it, just, you know, now that you have this for more than the handful of, you know, time and a handful of hours in the lab that we were able to have.

00:02:11   Now that you have this yourself, you have all your own stuff on it, you're able to use it at your leisure. What do you think of the Vision Pro?

00:02:17   It is a, I have very complicated feelings about it in the sense of it is one of those things that feels, it is incredibly amazing as a technological achievement, but I find I never use it.

00:02:31   I'm exactly the same way.

00:02:35   And it's one of those things that I saw, like, there's a dissidence in my mind about that experience that it's, it is really cool.

00:02:43   And when I use it is like, it is technically very impressive.

00:02:46   And I enjoy that experience. And there's, you know, a few times when, like, when I've been working on Vision Pro features, where I like wear it all day, because that's the easiest way to build and run with a developer strap, and things like that, like, and it's really kind of cool.

00:02:57   But it is the difficulty that I think it faces in my life is that it has to supplant so many established other things that do an incredibly good job and in some ways do a better job than it does that it is a, it is functions as a external monitor for my, you know, for my Mac with the Mac display mode.

00:03:21   And I can, you know, connect with the developer strap, it's very reliable, it works. Or I could just look at my XDR. And, you know, when I'm at home, that's what I'll do is I'll just come upstairs and sit down in my office and I have a lovely, you know, large high resolution display that I can work at.

00:03:36   And I'll do that. Or if I want to watch a show, if I want to watch a TV show or something, usually I'm at home with my family, and I want to watch it with them. And so it has to would have to somehow supplant that role of, you know, watching with, you know, with other people, which the vision pro doesn't really do. And so it hasn't supplanted my, you know, my video watching.

00:03:55   And if it's just sort of casual watching, so like casual media consumption, it's gonna have a really hard time beating the iPhone, like the iPhone is great for if I'm just, you know, I'm just hanging, you know, sitting in these sitting in my kitchen waiting for something to, you know, waiting for something to cook in the microwave or to, you know, for the kettle to boil or something.

00:04:12   I'm not going to go and get the vision pro and put it on. And so I'm just going to pick up my phone and, you know, watch a video on there. And so it has all these things that it's very sort of good at, but it's not good enough at any of them to be to supplant the other places in my life.

00:04:29   And so it's like, it's really cool and interesting, you know, but in my own life, and the main use I've had for it, other than development, is showing it to other people who are interested in the device. I've done a great many vision pro demos, and they're all always, you know, very impressed with it, but I find it just isn't, you know, finding its way into my day to day life.

00:04:48   And, you know, I'm a very technical person, I'm very engaged in this kind of thing. And so it's a tricky thing if I'm not finding a place for it in my life to, you know, to it that I'm somewhat representative of a certain kind of user.

00:05:03   And, you know, if that kind of user isn't finding it, then it makes it a hard sell for necessarily for the platform to have a lot of strong growth in the near term, I would expect.

00:05:14   Yeah, I have found similar challenges in finding a place for it in my life. It is, you know, as you said, like it's an amazing feat of technology, and I'm almost feeling it more like a very specialized Apple TV kind of device of like, this is something that I don't foresee becoming, at least for the near future,

00:05:37   I don't foresee it becoming like a general purpose computing platform for most people, just because it is so opinionated and limited and specific in how it needs or wants to be used.

00:05:49   Obviously, the physical side of it, you know, blocking out the world, makes it challenging to use in any kind of social situation, including, as you mentioned, like your own family, like, I don't really watch movies and video in it, because I don't watch that many movies and movies or videos.

00:06:04   And when I do, usually I'm with my family and wanted to watch it with them. So that's right out. I don't want to even use it, like while my family's around, because it feels like I'm shutting them out, kind of anti socially in a way that I don't really want to do.

00:06:19   And so there's just, I haven't really found a big place for it in my life. But, you know, for our purposes as developers, I think the real question is like, you know, what is the place for it in terms of potential customers for our apps, or potential new apps that we might want to want to create for it if we're so motivated.

00:06:37   And obviously, for my app, you know, I make an audio only podcast player. And I get the feeling there's not going to ever be a big market for an audio only podcast player in an immersive headset like this, because it's very much like the Mac market in the sense that most people who listen to podcasts are doing so on the move somewhere.

00:06:59   They are listening on their phone, usually in the car or while walking or on their commute, or around the house if they're doing chores or mowing the lawn or whatever else. They're not like sitting down at their computer and putting on a podcast while they do other things typically.

00:07:12   There are some people who do that, but it's a pretty small portion of the user base, relatively speaking. And I don't think there's anybody who is putting on audio podcasts in something like an immersive environment and saying, all right, I'm just gonna do this.

00:07:26   I'm just gonna listen to a podcast and just look at the mountains, which I did that, you know, as soon as I got the headset. That's the kind of thing I started playing with.

00:07:32   And it's kind of interesting, but I'm still not doing it in practice. It's the kind of thing like I want to do it like once or twice, but it's not something I want to do regularly or really have the opportunity to do regularly.

00:07:44   So I'm struggling to see a market for Overcast on the Vision Pro. And the numbers so far of like who uses it in iPad mode are sad. There's really not much motivation for me to bring Overcast to it.

00:07:57   So I think the question is really, does this market grow enough in the future where it makes sense to bring Overcast to it, you know, even in like the very minor way it would be used, similar to kind of how I addressed the Mac market with just the iPad version running in compatibility mode, which to be clear, that's what I'm doing on Vision Pro as well.

00:08:12   And I intend to keep that there, but like I don't think it's going to justify further development for a while, if ever. And so that kind of leaves the question of, okay, well, if it's not going to be Overcast in, you know, making a splash in Vision Pro, is there anything else I want to make that could make sense there?

00:08:28   I think the answer is, you know, not at the moment, because I'm just I don't have any other app ideas I really want to be working on right now. Through no fault of the platform, that's just me. But I'm struggling to find anything to do with it in the near term.

00:08:40   Yeah, and it's, I'm in a vaguely similar place, like with a slightly different, it's one of these things that I've been struggling through the kind of like is, like Widgetsmith is the app that I launched on day one there. And I would say it is not done well. And it's hard to know the degree to which that is because Widgetsmith isn't a great fit for the platform, or because the platform itself is struggling.

00:09:04   You know, like those two things are completely inextricably linked, I can't tell, you know, for my data, which of those things is true, that it's just people don't want to download Widgetsmith, or is that people just aren't downloading apps, like, those, those, those things are connected together in my mind.

00:09:19   And so that's one of those things that as I look at my data, and I, you know, the downloads and where things have been going on the platform, it's this weird feeling of like, is it just a bad fit, and I'm trying to sort of like fit it around peg in a square or square hole kind of thing. Like it's just this is just a mismatch that just doesn't quite align in terms of, you know, we're just I tried to make it work with these widgets in the in your virtual environment. Maybe that's not it. Maybe there's some other thing that is compelling.

00:09:46   But it's this tricky and it's discouraging because at the same time, it's like, I enjoy, I enjoy working on this in a way that it reminds me a lot of the way that I my work experience on watchOS, where there has not been much of a business case for developing watchOS apps, like that for a very long time, but I do it because I enjoy it and I enjoy, you know, working on vision Pro, but it has definitely been difficult.

00:10:10   And I think it's probably helpful here. Just I'm just going to share a couple of the sort of just the raw numbers around widgetsmith over the last first two months of this platform. Just because I think if I were someone who's thinking about getting into vision Pro development is like useful as a data point. And I would say, like I said, this is just my data. I don't really know if it's representative, if it's something that's going to be, you know, applicable to more broadly, but it's a data point.

00:10:33   And I think in the in a complete vacuum of information about things, it makes it hard for us to make wise, thoughtful, intelligent decisions about where we choose to spend our time. And so that's sort of where I'm trying to get at with this. It's like, it's not posting, it's not saying this is representative. It's just this is where I have. And so on vision Pro for you in the first two months, widgetsmith had about 13,000 total downloads.

00:10:57   And the vast majority of those happened in the first essentially week of the platform. Since then, it's dropped off dramatically. At this point, it has something in the range of about 70 new downloads a day.

00:11:11   So as you can see, like the numbers relatively modest and the trickier one for me, and this is where I get much more into the sense of like, the whether the app itself is just not necessarily a great fit, or I haven't found the right fit for the, you know, for the platform. I only have about 500 daily active users in a typical day right now, which is not great, necessarily.

00:11:32   Like it's fine, like that's not 500 people is 500 people. But in the scope and scale of iOS, it's really tough. And this is the thing that I've been struggling with as I've been working on features is like I'm working on a big update for widgetsmith is my project for the last few weeks.

00:11:51   And, you know, part of that is the work that I'm doing for VisionOS. And it's weird because like, how much time should I really invest in the VisionOS feature when there's such a disproportionate array of users between, you know, VisionOS and iOS and like I struggle with that because those numbers just are really hard.

00:12:09   And like, I made it a bit more concrete for myself at some point because I was like, okay, so say I took a full time yearly hours, you know, so you take 52 weeks times 40 hours a week, like that's full time, it's, you know, 2080 hours in a year.

00:12:24   If I were to distribute my time between iOS and VisionOS based purely on the number of daily active users, how much should I spend between the two? Right? This is the kind of calculations that I do. And after years, I'm just a bit of a spreadsheet guy, right? This is how I think

00:12:37   This is gonna be brutal.

00:12:39   And when I do this number, so 2080 hours in a year, I should spend eight and a half minutes on VisionOS.

00:12:46   Oh, that's not that's not great.

00:12:49   It's not great.

00:12:50   And that number, what that number tells me in the way that is very productive for me anyway, as someone who's, you know, who's, this is what I think about and the way that I think about it is, and I think this was a phrase you used on our episode about visionpro a couple, you know, whatever a couple months ago, is the sort of recreational computing term.

00:13:08   Was it the US is like, my development for this platform is for my enjoyment and enrichment. It is not based in a business case for me. There may be some type of app or some type of content or something where there is a compelling business case. But for me, I have not been able to find it yet. You know, that's just the reality.

00:13:27   Yeah, and that's so far. That's what I'm hearing from most developers or, you know, not many people are sharing numbers. But yeah, just for reference, I don't have all the stats in front of me for Overcast in terms of daily downloads. But I can tell you, you mentioned have about 500 daily active users for Widget Smith, I have about 300 to 250, depending on the day for Overcast for daily active users. So that's that's not good.

00:13:49   That basically tells me that the level of effort I'm putting into the platform now, which is letting the iPad app run, and occasionally fixing very minor behavioral problems that result from it. That is the level of engagement that it justifies at the moment for this app.

00:14:03   And that tells me right there, like, if there is a place for me to develop apps on Vision OS, Overcast is probably not that place. And that's fine. You know, I make the exact same trade off on the Mac. And the Mac has, for reference, way more daily active users than that. In fact, I think the Mac is even out doing my iPad app recently, which is really something.

00:14:22   So, but I do the same thing there, which is I let the iPad app run in compatibility mode. And if there's ever like, you know, a major bug that that is that hits my Mac, my Mac version there, I fix it. But I'm not like specifically developing for the Mac.

00:14:37   And I think that's exactly what I'm doing with Vision OS. I'm not going to specifically develop for it. But you know, I will let the app continue to run. And if a major bug crops up, I will fix it.

00:14:47   The place for the Vision Pro and for Vision OS for most developers, unless you have something that really fits it well, like I know Christian Selig makes Juno, which is like a YouTube viewing app for Vision OS. And that, he says that's doing well.

00:15:00   And first of all, good for him. He made that very quickly and did a really good job with it. But the thing is like, that's a video watching app that filled a really big empty hole in the platform, which is because YouTube didn't make their own app.

00:15:12   So that's a very good fit for the platform. If your app can do that, can fit that kind of mold of like, you're addressing like a really big, wide, broad need for this platform, then I think you could do you could have a business case for it.

00:15:26   Or if you already have an established app or service, you know, like Overcast, and you want to serve the number of your customers that are on Vision OS devices, you know, serve them in a way that will keep them into your overall ecosystem, you might have reasons there, too.

00:15:41   But those are two pretty narrow categories, really. And so this is not still going to be a platform where you're going to have a strong business case to make most types of apps.

00:15:53   So, again, you know, going back to the recreational computing angle, there's lots of areas of computing where people make software because they just want to, where there's really not much of a business case for it.

00:16:06   But either it's something they use, and so they want it to be there, or they just think it's cool, they want to tinker, or they want to learn, or they just want to do it for fun.

00:16:14   And that's totally fine. There's lots of software out there that's made that way, and that's largely to the benefit of the people who make it, you know, as long as they know that going into it.

00:16:24   You know, if you know you're not going to make much money on this platform, that doesn't mean you're not going to develop for it.

00:16:29   That just means how you look at developing for it changes. The reasons why you might want to develop for it will change. And there still are such reasons.

00:16:38   But, you know, don't go into it thinking you're going to make a business on it in most cases because you probably won't.

00:16:43   Yeah, exactly. And I think that is something that I feel good about in the sense of, like, the level of effort and energy that I will give the platform is more recreational and is more for fun.

00:16:53   And I enjoy that. Like, I have a long history of really enjoyable, fun, sustainable, you know, recreational development.

00:17:00   That's, you know, I've been making more apps for watchOS probably than almost anyone in the world because I love it, because I thought it was interesting.

00:17:07   And I'm not quite, I think I still enjoy working on watchOS more than VisionOS.

00:17:11   But it is, there's something interesting there. And it is, I love the technical challenge of it.

00:17:17   I love the creativity that you can bring to kind of a more infinite canvas that has, you know, it's just a different way of thinking.

00:17:23   Like, that's really compelling. But from a, like, fundamentals of the business perspective, it feels much more like I'm glad I'm on the platform.

00:17:30   I'm glad I have some data. I'm glad I'm not just like, you know, waiting this one out.

00:17:35   But at this point, it feels more like I'm treading water until something changes in the platform.

00:17:40   And until then, it's I'm continuing to sort of incrementally make things better, but not investing heavily into the platform.

00:17:47   Because I don't feel like, you know, that time is going to be as well returned to me as it would be if I spent that time on iOS, or, you know, those kinds of platforms where I have much more of a real tangible impact.

00:18:00   You know, if I spent, like, went all in on VisionOS, my fundamental, the fundamentals of my business would suffer in a way that, you know, I would not be wise.

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00:19:35   So something that I think I always like, you know, I try and always take the optimistic take on something or the, I guess, find how find the silver lining, find the thing that is positive.

00:19:45   And I think about, you know, some in some ways, the first part of this episode is a little bit negative.

00:19:48   It's a video, it doesn't end up in a great place of like, wow, it would be wonderful if we were coming into this episode two months in being like, wow, the platform is amazing.

00:19:55   It's on fire. It's the best thing ever. Like, everyone should be developing for this. It's amazing.

00:19:59   That's not the honest reality right now. But I think there are things when I think about like sort of the why.

00:20:06   And some of that is the device itself. But I do see that there's a number of things when I look at this platform that I have hope for if there were changes made, you know, that are hopefully will be made that for whatever reason aren't there now,

00:20:19   that would enhance the ability for it to be a good platform for developers. And there's just some of these weird, I don't know, like I think of them as oddities in the way that this device is launched in the way that it's rolled out that feel like, you know, there's not the whole picture that I'm able to see as, you know, from my perspective, but there's things that are just weird about the launch.

00:20:38   And there's some examples of these are these are things that I think are relatively easy to change or fix, or we could hope for to come soon or do you know, come this June or exactly how exactly this will happen. I'm not sure. But things like in the App Store, for example, like the place that people go to get our apps.

00:20:52   It's strangely limited in the way the ability of the App Store to show users apps for their device in a weird way like there's it's primarily an editorially driven rather than being you either have to be featured by editorial, or someone needs to search for your app.

00:21:12   Those are the primary ways and that you can find apps, there's no list, there's no browsing, there's no place that you can just go and like, I'm just curious, let me go and look there. If there's an editorial collection for you that fits whatever you're thinking about great.

00:21:27   But there's no way to just like browse and find stuff which feels limiting like and I've definitely noticed this in your sometimes we just I've been fortunate enough for it to be in one of the editorial collections, and the number of people who see my app and the number of people who find my app increases massively, which is lovely.

00:21:43   But it's also kind of sad that if it falls off one of those editorial things, it just kind of disappears into the ether and there's no you can't get to that app unless you sort of are searching for it specifically. And so like, that's the change that I would love to see, you know, Apple do and it feels a little weird in some ways that it isn't there now.

00:22:00   And similarly, there's a bunch of things that feel like there's things in the platform that are just really that aren't there yet that wouldn't potentially enhance and improve the engagement to the platform. So I think of things like the immersive video episodes, they you know, the thing where they have one where there's the woman who does highlighting, there's the one with the rhinoceros, there's Alicia Keys, there's a dinosaur one, these beautiful immersive experiences.

00:22:26   And from my perspective, they're like the most, the coolest thing I've ever experienced on vision Pro is that highlighting one where it feels like I'm like sitting on the edge of a cliff watching this woman do some amazing feat of athleticism. Like that's super cool. And but two months later, there's no Episode Two yet. Like there's no momentum with that platform in a way that feels like would potentially build engagement, get people putting the device back on who have one who are like, Oh, there's a new out, you know, there's every two weeks, there was a new episode, there's a new thing to get you.

00:22:55   back into the device, it would help, it would help meaningfully that there's, you know, if there was new things that were coming on the platform, on a more regular basis, there would be more interest in the platform. And it's these things that I imagine continue, this is just Apple strategy, it'll come later, there'll be a bigger push that maybe there's supply constraint, and doesn't make sense to push the platform dramatically at this point, or they're waiting until they have a worldwide rollout, or like, I don't know, like, there's that that's way above my pay grade. But there's these things that I look at this platform, I'm like, there's things that I'm not really aware of.

00:23:24   platform, I'm like, there's things that could make there be more momentum and more interest in the platform that would help a lot. And I see this both just in my experience, as well as sort of in the data, and there'll be a link to this image in the show notes. But I looked at the like Google Trends, you know, tool where you can put in a bunch of keywords, and it kind of gives you a sense of how popular how much interest there is on Google. If I look at the iPhone, the iPad, the Apple Watch, and Vision Pro, like Vision Pro has

00:23:53   these two spikes of interest, one at WDC, and one when it launched. And other than that, it's essentially flat, like and flat at zero, like there's just very limited interest in it otherwise. And I see that and it's like, yeah, that sort of tracks with the amount of publicity and sort of pushed content that seems like would, you know, justify interest in the platform, that there's not more and more reasons to be thinking about the Vision Pro or to be excited about it, that have

00:24:23   you know, in the last couple of months. And so, he's part of me that also hopes that at some point that will turn around that there's these fairly straightforward things that aren't necessarily fundamental to the platform, but are just a, you know, survey content creation pipeline that I think would likely increase the interest in the platform. And that if it's coming from Apple, would sort of have knock on effects to developers that, you know, every time someone has a reason to take their Vision Pro out of their drawer and put it on and experience something in it is another time that they may

00:24:53   be thinking, huh, I wonder what else I can do with this. And that question is like the root of, you know, developer success on the platform in a lot of ways.

00:25:01   Yeah, I think the, you know, the path to general happiness as both an Apple developer and frankly as an Apple customer even is to try to match your level of enthusiasm for a given Apple product to Apple's level of effort that they put into it. You know, generally speaking, I have found myself happier the less I involve products in my life that seem to be low priorities for Apple.

00:25:27   You know, I've discussed on my other show about how, you know, the HomePods have disappointed me over the years and I was happier to remove them from my life.

00:25:36   The Apple TV I use constantly. I use every day, but not as a power user. I use it very simply. And that seems like that's a really good place for that product to be used as well.

00:25:47   The Vision Pro, even though it is the new hotness and it is, you know, very heavily promoted by Apple and, you know, it's a big deal, I think we're already seeing, like what you were saying about how there's not really any new content yet and, you know, a lot of things are still coming soon.

00:26:06   I think the Vision Pro is going to remain actually a pretty low priority for Apple because it has to be. Because it's just not that big of a platform yet and it's going to be a long time before the cost of components and everything come down enough that it even has a chance of doing that.

00:26:22   So I think it's going to be a lot like the Apple TV and the HomePod. They might have the best of intentions, but I can't see them putting a lot of resources behind it because those resources, they're making the same calculus as we are. They're saying, look, we have so many more people on iOS and macOS and the other platforms.

00:26:39   Like, we need to focus on those platforms. Like, you know, the iPhone is going to get all the resources because that's where all the people and money are. That's true for Apple as well as it is for us. So I think the Vision Pro is going to be a relatively low resourced product in terms of like software and content and everything for a while, possibly forever.

00:27:01   And so, again, that kind of suggests to us that the way we should be looking at it is kind of the same way of it's a fun place to experiment. It might be something in the future. It's maybe a good platform for like hobbyist or fun work, but I wouldn't be investing very heavily in it if Apple doesn't seem to be able to justify that either. And so far that seems to be the case and that will probably remain the case.

00:27:25   Yeah. And I think there's definitely something in there that is, it's like, I mean, it's a very, it's almost like one of those classic Rorschach test where it's like, if the statement developers should spend, should give as much attention to Vision OS as Apple has.

00:27:41   Yeah, what does that mean to you?

00:27:43   What that means to you could be completely different things. Like, on the one hand, you could say, this is an amazing, like, amazing product that has clearly taken a huge amount of research and development, is pushing the boundaries in all of these areas. It's really cool. They've solved these really complicated, intentionless, like user experience issues and problems. And it's amazing product. They put so much effort into it, so much attention behind it. We should do the same. Or you could say, they, they aren't. Like, they built this, they built this cool thing. They had a research and development project.

00:28:13   And they built the dev kit, and they put it out in the world. Like, you could take either of those views. And that is just coming at like where you're coming from. But I think from my perspective, it's like, I do have the sense of, I will scale, I have a baseline level of interest and enjoyment in the platform that I expect to maintain, that is not necessarily representative of its like financial benefits to me, just based on my, you know, just I enjoy working on it. And that level will scale sort of up and down over time, in proportion to the degree to which I feel like

00:28:43   Apple is investing in the platform. And so come WDC, come new things, like if they continue to invest and develop, and this is, they're pushing it forward and forward, I will continue to sort of track that from my level. But if it feels a bit more like it's the other way around, where the, you know, there's less and less interest in the platform over time, I suspect my baseline will shrink as well. But it's like, it's starting from a nice place. I enjoy it. But from here, you know, in some ways, it's up to Apple to determine whether it's going up or it's going down.

00:29:11   Yeah. Thanks for listening, everybody. And we'll talk to you in two weeks. Bye.

00:29:16   Peace.