Choosing a Technology Stack for Apple Vision Pro Applications
When building an Apple Vision Pro application, developers have a few options to choose from. The decision which setup to pick depends on the application type and its later intended use. Let’s go through some of the technology options that can be used to develop Apple Vision Pro applications and analyze their adequacy per use case.
Picking a Technology Stack for Apple Vision Pro Applications
Even though the device isn’t yet commercially available (as of August 2023), Apple has already released lots of information about hardware, specifications, and technologies of the Apple Vision Pro headset to support product development. That said, with the technology stack available now, you can start developing your application for Apple Vision Pro to be one of the first movers once the device hits the market.
The key information to understand in terms of Apple Vision Pro app development is the application types it can run. The biggest difference, aside from the viewing experience of each app type, is the app’s capability to understand and then react to user input.
Input (spatial data) options:
Head pose — Head pose describes the orientation and position of the headset, allowing the system to adjust visuals based on where and how the user is looking.
Hand pose — Hand pose refers to the recognition and interpretation of the positions and movements of a user's fingers and hand. It allows the user to interact with on-screen content using natural hand gestures.
Spatial data — Spatial data pertains to information about the physical location and shape of objects in space, which the user can manipulate using eyes, hands, and voice.
Eye tracking — Eye tracking technology observes and analyzes eye movements and gaze, offering a unique way to interact with the device. This advancement also marks a significant step towards improved accessibility for individuals with disabilities.
With that terminology checked off, here are the app types for Apple Vision Pro:
These are dedicated to 3D content. The Volumes apps lack head pose, hand pose, and spatial data. Imagine a floating hologram which you can view and maneuver but have limited interaction options (i.e., the app doesn’t receive spatial data and can’t adjust to the user's input) – that’s Volumes.
Here’s where things become truly immersive. Spaces incorporate head pose, giving users an experience that spans the entire room. They also support hand and spatial data, allowing users to place digital objects in physical space and interact with them freely.
These are akin to iPad apps, but Apple Vision Pro offers a more immersive, distraction-free data-viewing experience. Ideal for displaying news, charts, or sheets, they can be resized to optimize the data-viewing experience.
An Apple Vision Pro application can comprise a mix of these types. For example, a Spaces app can house multiple Windows and Volumes apps. These are called shared-space apps (different apps running in a user’s space).
Start exploring the possibilities of Apple Vision Pro today
Apple Vision Pro by design is an AR-first device. What it means is that the device blends digital content into the user’s environment (by way of pass-through technology: a feature that uses the headset's camera to view the user's real-world surroundings).
Mixed — Blends digital and real-world content.
Full — A total digital takeover.
Progressive — Gradually shifts from real-world to digital content using the Digital Crown button.
Including different immersion modes into an application gives developers an option to add layered spatial experiences, where the user can choose to, for example, work in a content simulator without seeing their surroundings or keep the simulator as part of the user space in AR mode. Apple puts great emphasis on the customization of the experience, giving users freedom in how they want to create their space.
Focus on Collaboration in Apple Vision Pro
Augmented reality delivered on headsets can be an extended immersive workspace where the user switches between different applications (for example Sheets, design application, and conferencing app) for a highly collaborative experience. A key feature of Apple Vision Pro is SharePlay. It allows multiple users, either in proximity or connected via Facetime, to view the same digital content.
The Overview of Tech Stack Options for Apple Vision Pro
Apple Vision Pro supports many technology options from which developers can create their digital products. And while this list is by no means exhaustive and there are other technologies that you can use to build an Apple Vision Pro app, we have tested the below collection extensively.
SwiftUI is Apple’s modern UI toolkit. When combined with RealityKit, it facilitates the creation of 3D elements within apps.
out-of-the-box native look & feel familiar to Apple
can be insufficient for applications heavier in 3D content
RealityKit is Apple’s library for rendering 3D content.
it adds a 3D layer to applications built in SwiftUI
the particle system is limited (there’s only a basic particle emitter)
less code reusability for apps that run multiple devices
the current version (August 2023) has less features compared to Unity
for 3D-heavy spatial apps
Volumes and Spaces apps
Think of Metal as Apple's powerhouse for graphic-intensive tasks (Apple’s version of OpenGL and DirectX). It's a low-level programming language optimized for performance-heavy applications.
as it operates very close to the graphic card it adds a necessary performance stimulus for 3D rendering
steep learning curve
detailed 3D models
Note: Developers can seamlessly blend SwiftUI, RealityKit, and Metal to craft apps spanning Windows, Spaces, and Volumes.
Unity is one of the biggest platforms for creating real-time 3D content. PolySpatial is Unity’s SDK created specifically for building applications for Apple Vision Pro.
cross-platform optimized (code reusability across different devices and headsets)
no royalties for using in application (you pay only for development platform)
mature platform with large support
editor in Unity is platform agnostic
Unity has a plugin for that supports Apple’s RealityKit default format, .usd, but Unity supports a larger number of formats, which gives developers more flexibility
the learning curve is easy because of the abundance of materials and community, tutorials, and plugins. Windows apps can be ported from iPad to AVP, however, Spaces and Volumes require 3D knowledge
it can be challenging to replicate Apple's distinct look & feel
Spaces and Volumes AVP apps
heavy 3D content and spatial experiences
games and visualizers due to a large library of special effects
Mainly known for mobile and web app development, Flutter can also be utilized to port iPad apps to Apple Vision Pro.
established UI framework for developing multi-platform applications
it can be challenging to replicate Apple's distinct look & feel
Windows applications without 3D content
The Decision Tree for Choosing a Tech Stack for Apple Vision Pro
Depending on project status and the availability of development resources, you can choose the most suitable tech stack by following the below advice.
If you already have a native iOS app -> port it to AVP and add 3D content using RealityKit whenever necessary.
If you have experience (e.g, you’re an iOS developer), then the SwiftUI with RealityKit combo is a good choice assuming the application can be built in this technology.
If you have an app built in Unity -> port it to AVP and work in Unity to add more features.
For graphic-heavy applications -> use Metal for 3D content, then SwiftUI and RealityKit for the interface.
For a new app built entirely for Apple Vision Pro, examine the proportion between UI and 3D elements and then:
For UI-focused apps -> SwiftUI + RealityKit
For 3D-focused apps -> use Unity
For cross-platform applications — when you want your application to run on multiple headsets from different manufacturers — choose Unity.
If you want Apple’s familiar look and feel, pick RealityKit.
Deeper Considerations When Choosing a Tech Stack
Hardware limitations and capabilities
The Apple Vision Pro, given its advanced AR functionalities, is powered by high-end processors and graphics units. While it offers great computational power, it's essential to select a stack that efficiently utilizes the device's hardware without causing overheating or lags.
Battery life implications
Augmented reality apps, especially those with a high degree of 3D content, can be power-hungry. Certain frameworks or coding practices might deplete the battery faster. SwiftUI and RealityKit, being Apple's native tools (they render directly to the device), are optimized for power efficiency, whereas third-party tools like Unity might consume more power due to the added abstraction layers.
Apple's ecosystem is renowned for its security. Using Apple's native tools such as SwiftUI will integrate seamlessly with the device's in-built security protocols. However, if opting for third-party solutions, always ensure that user data protection complies with Apple's security guidelines.
As your app's features and user base grow, you'll need a tech stack that scales efficiently. While Apple's native tools are robust, Unity's vast ecosystem might offer more plugins and solutions for scalability challenges.
Developer community and support
Unity boasts a massive developer community, providing countless resources, plugins, and troubleshooting guides. Apple's community revolving around the technology stack for Apple Vision pro is less developed given the device is new.
Maintenance and updates
Native tools, like SwiftUI, will receive regular updates aligned with Apple's OS updates, which translates into faster bug patches. Third-party solutions like Unity or Flutter won’t be able to fix bugs without official patches released by Apple.
While Apple's native tools come bundled with the developer account, third-party platforms might have licensing costs, especially for when targeting multiple platforms (e.g., Switch, PlayStation, or Xbox). For example, Unity requires developers to purchase Unity Pro when the app reaches $100 K revenue.
Also, from January 1, 2024, Unity will introduce a Unity Runtime Fee tied to game installs. This applies only to games surpassing certain revenue and install benchmarks: $200,000 with 200,000 installs for Unity Personal/Plus and $1,000,000 with 1 million installs for Unity Pro/Enterprise. Additionally, starting November, cloud-based storage, Unity DevOps, and AI at runtime will be integrated into Unity subscription plans without extra charges.
Integration with other systems
If you're looking to integrate cloud services, databases, or third-party APIs, Apple's ecosystem offers seamless integrations with its services like iCloud. For broader integrations, a platform like Unity might offer more flexibility as it’s API agnostic.
Future trends and forecasts
Augmented reality is rapidly evolving. While Apple's tools will consistently adapt to the latest trends, platforms like Unity can potentially pivot faster due to their broader focus on VR/AR across devices.
The Principles Behind Choosing Your Development Pathway for an Apple Vision Pro App
1. Anticipating future trends
In the tech world, innovation often lies at the intersection of what's current and what's envisioned. Brands like Apple exemplify this by being pioneers who also transform markets when they step in. As AR and VR technologies hover on the brink of mainstream adoption, it's crucial to look beyond immediate capabilities. Instead, focus on the long-term trajectory and potential scalability and compatibility when choosing a tech stack.
2. The depth of expertise
Broad technical skills are important, but niche proficiencies can often make the difference between a good application and an exceptional one. When choosing a development partner for a device as specialized as Apple Vision Pro, it's not just about knowing AR and VR. It's about understanding the intricacies of the platform it's built on — in this case, the Apple ecosystem. Thus, depth, as much as breadth, should be a priority when seeking tech solutions or partners. A partner with a combination of AR and VR expertise with experience in iOS development can help navigate the development swiftly.
3. Launching at the right moment
Timing can often be as crucial as the product itself. In technology, being a first-mover might provide a distinct advantage. The early bird doesn't just get the worm — it sets the trend and positions itself as a market leader. When choosing a tech stack or a development partner, consider how they can enable you to hit the market at optimal moments, ensuring your application rides the wave of early adoption.
4. Cross-platform preparedness
While it's essential to be specialized, cross-platform compatibility can be a huge benefit in the long run. Whether it's for ensuring wider reach or future-proofing against market shifts, your chosen tech stack and development partner should be ready for adaptability. This is not just about moving between AR and VR but also about ensuring that applications can work on different hardware ecosystems.
5. Development for end-user experience
While back-end proficiency is vital, the success of any application ultimately hinges on its user experience. The chosen tech stack and development strategy should prioritize the end-user. This means intuitive interfaces, seamless transitions between AR and VR, and ensuring optimal performance even as the application scales. For this to happen, an experienced team of developers that knows the intricacies of building augmented reality products is key.
6. Continuous learning and adaptability
AR and VR are highly dynamic. Today's cutting-edge solution might become tomorrow's standard practice. Hence, it's important that your development partner comes with a commitment to continuous learning, research, and adaptability. They should be in sync with evolving best practices, emerging tools, and the shifting preferences of the end-user.
How Other Technologies Work When Building Applications for the Vision Pro Headset
Let’s take Unity as an example.
Start building the app in Unity Editor.
Use PolySpatial SDK. This SDK is built for Apple Vision Pro. It provides tools to implement AVP-specific features, such as highlighting elements based on user interaction.
Implement augmented reality using the AR Foundation. Unity's AR Foundation integrates AR functionalities from Apple's ARKit and Google's ARCore. If AR Foundation doesn't support a needed feature, you can directly use ARKit. However, as of August 2023, it's yet uncertain if AR Foundation is compatible with visionOS, the operating system for AVP.
Consider XR Interaction Toolkit: This Unity toolkit facilitates the creation of applications for various headsets like Oculus or MagicLeap. But like the AR Foundation, it’s yet unclear how it translates to Apple Vision Pro.
Building for visionOS:
Unity will create an Xcode project suitable for the VisionOS platform.
Unity's code is converted to C++ for compatibility.
Custom shaders are transformed to MaterialX format, and particle systems might use Apple’s methods or be turned into 3D meshes.
The resulting application will utilize Apple's RealityKit for augmented reality. However, any limitations of RealityKit might affect Unity's capabilities.
Getting Your Choices Right for Apple Vision Pro Development
The Apple Vision Pro, bridging the realms of AR and VR, represents a new frontier for immersive applications. As developers venture into this expansive domain, it's essential to not only comprehend the technological nuances but also anticipate long-term shifts in the AR and VR landscapes. Whether adapting existing apps or innovating anew, informed decisions, strategic foresight, and a deep understanding of the device's capabilities are pivotal. Your tech stack choices will not only mold the present application but also set the trajectory for its future evolution in this dynamic and ever-evolving ecosystem.
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