In the days leading up to the launch of the Vision Pro, Apple has been heavily promoting some of the apps dedicated to its spatial computing headsets. Download Disney Plus and watch movies from Tatooine! Slack and Fantastical and Microsoft Office in your face! FaceTime with your friends as a floating 3D image! But it’s increasingly clear that the Vision Pro’s early success, and much of the answer to the question of what this headset is actually for, will come from one app: Safari.
The most important app in Vision Pro is Safari, whether Apple likes it or not
That’s right, friends. Web browsers are back. And Apple needs them more than ever if it wants this $3,500 computer to be a hit. Embracing the Web means threatening the very things that made Apple so powerful and so rich in the mobile era, but at least initially, the open Web is Apple’s best chance to make its headphones a winner. Because at least so far, it seems that developers are not rushing to create new apps for Apple’s new platform.
Historically, Apple has been unparalleled in its ability to convince app makers to keep up with its latest products. When you release features for iPhone and iPad, a large portion of the App Store supports those features within a few weeks. But so far, the developers seem to be taking development of Vision Pro slowly. The exact reason varies across the App Store, but there are a bunch of good reasons to choose from. The first is that it’s a new platform with new UI ideas and usability concerns on a really expensive device that only a few people will have access to for a while. Sure, you can more or less check the box and port your iPad app over to Vision Pro, but that might not be up to everyone’s standards.
The biggest reason is that Apple and its developers are increasingly at odds. Some of the high-profile companies that have announced that they have yet to build apps for Vision Pro and its VisionOS platform — Netflix, Spotify, YouTube, and others — are the same companies that have loudly objected to how Apple manages the platform. App Store. Spotify has been objecting to Apple’s 30 percent cut on in-app purchases for years. Netflix got a sweet deal from Apple years ago to share just 15 percent of revenue but recently declined to participate in Apple TV’s app discovery feature and has long since stopped letting you subscribe to Netflix from your iOS device. YouTube stopped allowing in-app purchases a few years ago, and even canceled subscriptions people bought in the App Store in order to escape Apple’s commission.
You’d think the recent end to the Apple/Epic dispute would have made things better since Apple was required to allow developers to link to other places users can pay for apps. But Apple changed its terms to say that, in fact, even if someone clicks the link and signs up across the web, developers still owe Apple a commission. Sure, it’s 27 percent instead of 30, but that’s unlikely to change anyone’s mind. The message was clear: If you sell a product through the App Store, Apple will get its share one way or another.
All this corporate infighting has the potential to completely change the way we use our devices
But what if Apple users don’t need App Store access anymore? All this corporate infighting has the potential to completely change the way we use our devices, starting with the Vision Pro. She’s not like you I cannot Use Spotify on your headphone; It’s just that instead of clicking on the Spotify app icon, you’ll have to go to Spotify.com. Same for YouTube, Netflix, and every other web app that chooses not to build something native to Vision Pro. And for gamers, whether you want to use Xbox Game Pass or just play fortniteYou will also need a browser. Over the past decade or so, we’ve all stopped opening websites and started clicking on app icons, but the URL may be coming back.
If you believe that the open web is a good thing, and that developers should spend more time on their web applications and less time on their native applications, then this is a huge win for the future of the Internet. (Disclosure: I believe all of these things.) The problem is that this is happening nearly two decades after mobile platforms systematically downgraded and ignored their browsing experience. You can create bookmarks on the home screen, which are just shortcuts to web apps, but those web apps don’t have the same access to offline modes, cross-app collaboration, or some of your phone’s other built-in features. After all this time, you still can’t easily run browser extensions on mobile Safari or mobile Chrome. Apple also makes it insanely complicated to just stay logged in to the services you use on the web across different apps. Mobile platforms treat browsers like web page viewers, not app platforms, and it shows.
However, there are some reasons for hope: Apple recently added multiple profiles, support for the iPad’s external webcam, and some other features to Safari, which at least shows that Apple is aware of Safari’s existence and is willing to give it access to some native features. . I’ve felt for years that Apple would abandon Safari entirely if given the choice; After all, they tightly control everything about their platforms, and the web is a completely ungovernable place. But it looks like the company is still investing in getting Safari up and running. (All the antitrust pressure focused on Safari will likely help move things along, too.)
Safari for VisionOS will also come with some platform-specific features: you’ll be able to have multiple windows open at the same time and move them around in the virtual space. A recently leaked video showed a user manipulating a 3D object within a web page. Apple engineers said at WWDC last year that they had completely redesigned the tab overview for VisionOS, and also made some changes so the browser would work with both touch and the eye-tracking and double-tap mechanisms that are core to VisionOS. Apple has warned developers to prepare their apps for all kinds of new screen sizes and layouts as users do weird things with their headphones. The company also confirmed that it will support WebXR, a browser-based virtual reality protocol that can be used for some impressively immersive things.
Many users may often not notice the difference between opening the Spotify app and going to Spotify.com
Rumors also circulated a couple of years ago that Apple would drop the WebKit requirement for developers, meaning other browsers could be built on other rendering engines. If that happens, you may be able to run full Chrome or Firefox on your Apple devices, likely including Vision Pro. This change, combined with the growing interest in Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) — cross-platform web-based applications that Android, Windows, and even Apple are starting to support more aggressively — could make your headset’s browser dramatically more powerful overnight. With a good browser and powerful PWAs, many users may often not notice the difference between opening the Spotify app and going to Spotify.com. This is a win for the entire web.
A powerful, deeply integrated desktop-class browser will make Vision Pro useful and powerful from day one. Apple should embrace Safari, allow other desktop-class browsers, and treat Vision Pro like a power user platform. No one has yet seen enough of Safari for VisionOS to know whether or not it’s all that stuff, and I’m not sure if Apple wants to or not. Because that’s the real question for Apple: What’s more important, getting Vision Pro off to a good start or protecting the sanctity of control over its App Store at all costs? While Apple is trying to create a platform shift to take on PCs, I’m not sure it can have it both ways.