In the vast digital orchard of the Internet, I've been navigating between the Apple enthusiasts proclaiming there is the freshest tech, and the critics talking about the sour taste of yet another billion-dollar company building a walled garden.
Now, as I speak, the shiny Apple tech hasn’t landed in my basket. I am frankly still not sure about it, I'll have to try it in person when it finally comes out. Still, I think we've got some strong hints from Apple's juicy software and developer notes harvested straight from Grove as it were and linked below. After all, they want developers to start building before you or the average person gets a taste.
I wanted to swing by Apple's branch, swing by Microsoft's tech tree, and have a byte in Meta’s digital playground, all before circling back for a retrospective fruit salad.
Okay now into this endeavor: Why has Apple chosen now to do "Spatial Computing"? Is this a new thing or just a graft from the existing tech? And when pitted against concepts like Extended Reality, does Apple's taste different? Let's slice it up and find out!
Apple's Vision Pro: A New Perspective
This is a comprehensive exploration, limited only by my attention span so, so Don't take my word for it, A list of the sources I consulted can be found at the bottom. My journey into the world of Spatial Computing began with an examination of its core principles. Which can be found in Apple's development docs. Unlike XR, MR, AR, and VR, Apple's verbiage is called Spatial Computing denoting the software coupled with the Vision Pro. At first glance to me, it seems to offer a unique approach to integrating digital objects into our physical environment with better-developed integration. But what does that mean?
Spatial Computing vs. Extended Reality (XR)
I found my answers in comparison to these other terms that both Meta and Microsoft use, and how they’ve been previously expressed. Here's a quick reminder and breakdown of various terms:
Extended Reality (XR): An umbrella term that includes all virtual and real combined environments and human-machine interactions. It's the broadest category, encompassing the following:
Virtual Reality (VR): A fully immersive experience where the user is placed in a completely virtual environment, disconnected from the real world.
Augmented Reality (AR): Overlaying digital objects onto the real world through a device, enhances the user's perception of reality.
Mixed Reality (MR): A blend of VR and AR, where virtual objects are integrated into the real world and can interact with the user's environment.
Now Apple's “Spatial Computing” builds on these foundations but seeks to ground things in features like what they’re defining as Shared Spaces, immersive styles, and custom interactions. It is an attempt to offer a more versatile yet simplified and arguably more engaging experience with simple basics to allow for seamless integration of virtual objects.
XR is still a great term and could encompass the practical solution that Apple is trying to show with Spatial Computing but of course, in true Apple fashion, they wanted to brand it as their idea. Apple’s new term shows that these ideas aren't Reality bending, but are computing challenges that define more practical realities.
Apple manages to do this, not as just a marketing scheme but because through Apple's development environment, Xcode, and new tools like Reality Composer Pro and Reality Kit, they’re providing a comprehensive ecosystem for developers, an end-to-end solution as some might say.
This is far from the abstract concepts that XR has been and departs from the open source somewhat. The principles of spatial design for Apple emphasize familiarity, human-centered design, and immersion, to define how developers can allow you to interact with digital objects in this new way with Spatial Computing’s Windows, Volumes, and Spaces.
Here's a breakdown of what each term represents for Apple:
Windows: Not just confined to traditional 2D interfaces. They are dynamic elements that can mix and match 2D & 3D content, offering a glass-like material that doesn't obstruct the user's normal view. They can coexist with other windows and integrate seamlessly with SwiftUI, providing a familiar yet innovative experience.
Volumes: 3D content screens, often visualized as 3D box volumes. These are not mere static displays but interactive environments where users can adjust size and space. They can exist alongside windows, adding depth and dimension to the virtual space.
Spaces: Full immersion, similar to full VR there is also a progressive style that allows users to go between styles with a knob on the hardware. Spaces enable hand-tracking skeletons. They are designed to be human-centered, focusing on natural lines of sight and minimal movement.
These three core components of Spatial Computing are supported by a range of additional features and tools. For instance, custom interactions like taps, long presses, and drags are possible, along with the integration of wireless devices like keyboards and mice.
Competitor Analysis: Microsoft and Meta
In the rapidly evolving world of immersive technologies, Apple's Spatial Computing is not without competition. Two major players in this field, Microsoft and Meta, have their unique approaches and offerings. Here's how they stack up against Apple:
Microsoft, a pioneer in the realm of immersive technologies, has championed what they term "Mixed Reality." This concept, which amalgamates the principles of Augmented and Virtual Reality, could arguably be synonymous with Extended Reality. Much like Apple's foray into "Spatial Computing," Microsoft was among the trailblazers. However, their offerings, such as the HoloLens 2 priced at $3,500 or its hardhat-integrated variant at $5,199, are not tailored for the everyday consumer, and the hardware and software, while advanced, aren't designed for widespread consumer adoption. The applications are niche, with a focus on precision over broad interaction.
They do have a vast repository of learning materials ensures compatibility with their diverse product suite. They’re marketed towards business technology. It's conceivable that Apple's venture into this domain is partly influenced by Microsoft's significant stake in the current XR industry, especially given their lucrative contract with the US military for AR headsets, valued at over 20 billion dollars. While Apple courts the creative minds and tech professionals, Microsoft's gaze is firmly set on the industrial sector.
Meta, previously recognized as Facebook, underwent that transformative rebranding, marking a strategic pivot from a software-centric entity. Their investment in the XR space is evident in their developer-centric approach. While they weren't the first to the XR party, their acquisition of Oculus, a frontrunner in the tech, solidified their position. With deep pockets, Meta has channeled significant resources into this burgeoning field, and the results are palpable. Their ever-evolving hardware and software suite suggests an experimental ethos, contrasting with Microsoft's prescriptive approach or Apple's curated vision.
Meta's primary aim is to empower developers, encouraging them to innovate on their platform, and offering them flexibility and adaptability as they support the most diverse tools and programs, even if they’re limited by the cost and power of their hardware. Still, it is their force of will that has pulled the XR market through more than a few dips. Their dominance in the VR market is unparalleled, outpacing even contenders like Sony's PlayStation VR.
While it doesn’t seem they always have the “best” hardware it’s still the most popular with estimates of upwards of 20 million headsets sold. They compete clearly in the business-to-customer environment, even as they try to grow into the business-to-professional market.
In the grand garden of these technologies, the emergence of Spatial Computing represents a significant leap forward in how we interact with digital content, not because of the novelty of its taste but because of the potential in the market and the better definition of the tools and processes.
There used to be some question that these types of technologies would succeed or fail, I heard many people frankly tell me that you can only make a polished turd so valuable.
Now I get a lot of silence from many skeptics as Apple's Spatial Computing enters into our reality, with its emphasis on human-centered design and seamless integration, it does offer a fresh perspective on immersive experiences.
I can already see its influence on professionals as Apple focuses on a walled but natural and intuitive approach. This is what makes their approach to XR work as “Spatial Computing” Instead, it’s not an extended reality, it’s this reality.
To the average user, It's simple. We are on the cusp of a digital revolution that will redefine how we work, play, learn, and communicate. A chance to experience a richer, more interactive, and more personalized digital world.
For developers, this is an unprecedented opportunity to shape the future, to create applications and experiences that were once the stuff of science fiction. The boundaries between the physical and digital realms are blurring, and these technologies are the bridge.
I hope this video has been insightful, if it was, please subscribe, you can see we are not very big and I don’t do this for the money I just can’t shut up about this, and your support would be welcome. Did all this make sense? If not what did I miss, feel free to ask questions below.
(2019, August 12). What Is Extended Reality Technology? A Simple Explanation For Anyone. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/bernardmarr/2019/08/12/what-is-extended-reality-technology-a-simple-explanation-for-anyone/?sh=71de6b472498
Augmented, Virtual & Mixed Reality. Bernard Marr. Retrieved from https://bernardmarr.com/augmented-virtual-mixed-reality/
Extended reality. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extended_reality
(2023). [Study on a specific aspect of extended reality]. Frontiers in Virtual Reality, [Vol. Issue, Article]. DOI: 10.3389/frvir.2023.1019080. Retrieved from https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/frvir.2023.1019080/full
Microsoft. Mixed Reality. Retrieved from https://developer.microsoft.com/en-us/mixed-reality/
Facebook for Developers. Oculus. Retrieved from https://developers.facebook.com/products/oculus/
Apple Inc. VisionOS. Retrieved from https://developer.apple.com/documentation/visionOS