Skip to main content

Digital Trends may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site. Why trust us?

Apple’s ‘foundational’ Vision Pro tool was secretly built 6 years ago

Long before Apple’s Vision Pro headset made its debut, there was rampant speculation that the company’s wider augmented reality (AR) efforts were part of a larger project toward building the then-mysterious device. Now, it seems that at least one of those technologies was built with Vision Pro in mind.

I recently interviewed Susan Prescott, Apple’s vice president of Worldwide Developer Relations, and Steve Sinclair, senior director of product marketing for Apple Vision Pro, to find out how the company courted developers while prepping the headset. In the course of that interview, Sinclair shed some light on how Vision Pro intertwined with the company’s ARKit developer framework.

Apple Vision Pro provides virtual screens for your Mac.
Apple

Throughout my talk with Prescott and Sinclair, both made repeated references to ARKit, Apple’s framework for building AR experiences. Prescott said it was “foundational” for allowing people to build content for Vision Pro. When discussing how Apple adapted existing tools for its headset, Sinclair stated that “ARKit on iPhone and on iPadOS allowed us the opportunity to learn from developers and from ourselves on how best to implement these things on a platform like Vision Pro.”

Was ARKit specifically built with Vision Pro in mind, I asked, or did its development come about separately and subsequently?

“We’ll just say in conjunction” was Sinclair’s response.

Sinclair’s answer seems to imply that, at a minimum, Vision Pro was a consideration in the development of ARKit, if not the main driving force behind its creation.

ARKit’s secret purpose

Two people playing an augmented reality game on Apple iPad.
Apple

When Apple revealed ARKit as part of iOS 11 in 2017, it explained that the tool would allow developers to “build detailed and compelling virtual content on top of real-world scenes for interactive gaming, immersive shopping experiences, industrial design and more.” Looking back, that seems like a description ripe for Vision Pro as much as it does the iPhone or iPad.

We already know that Vision Pro has been in development since at least 2007, the date Apple provisionally applied for a very early headset patent. In the intervening 16 years, there have been many other technologies that Apple ostensibly made for different devices that could also have been created with Vision Pro in mind.

LiDAR, for instance, has been heavily promoted as a way to enjoy AR experiences using an iPhone or an iPad Pro, but it also features prominently in Vision Pro. Numerous patents registered over the years, from extending a Mac’s display into virtual space to in-air MacBook keyboards, could all have been disguised Vision Pro technologies.

That’s unsurprising given Apple’s famous tight-lipped reticence, and it’s interesting to see the suggestion that ARKit has always had a secret secondary purpose. What other seemingly innocuous techs could find their way into future Apple devices? Only time will tell.

Editors' Recommendations

Alex Blake
In ancient times, people like Alex would have been shunned for their nerdy ways and strange opinions on cheese. Today, he…
How to try out the Vision Pro headset yourself
Someone using Vision Pro at a demo in an Apple Store.

The Apple Vision Pro has made a huge splash, introducing a wave of new customers to the world of mixed-reality. The headset -- also known as a “spatial computer” -- has been on sale since February this year, and it's grabbed headlines and attention.

The experience of using a Vision Pro has been met with a wide range of responses, from Mark Zuckerberg's infamous (and clearly partisan) observations to enthusiasm from tech lovers. But there have been some persistent issues even among the generally positive reviews, particular in terms of discomfort while wearing the device and problems with motion sickness. There were even reports of people returning their Vision Pros, though it's not clear if this was a really widespread issue or just the kinds of teething problems that might be expected with any new piece of tech.

Read more
How Vision Pro tech could come to the Mac
The Mac Studio and Studio Display at Apple's Peek Performance event.

You're probably familiar with the Apple Vision Pro, which uses spatial computing technology to bring content alive in the world around you. Virtual reality headsets and 3D displays exist to make games and other content feel more immersive. Apple, however, wants to be the best of the best and is looking into bringing spatial computing experiences to computer monitors, presumably to run your Mac.

A patent for "Displays with Selective Pixel Brightness tuning" was published on April 4, showing the company's interest in the technology. Much of it involves using a lenticular display and a lenticular lens film so that a viewer can see what looks like three-dimensional images without wearing a headset.

Read more
Vision Pro 2: everything we expect from the future of Apple’s headsets
The Apple Vision Pro reveals the wearer's eyes on a front-facing display.

Apple’s Vision Pro headset has been the talk of the tech world since it was unveiled, but Apple is already planning to follow it up with two new models that could take the headset to new heights -- and put it into the hands of more people. That includes a second-generation Apple Vision Pro, as well as a pared-back headset with a lower price.

What exactly should we expect from these devices? What kind of features will they offer, and when will they launch? If you’re seeking the answers to all those questions and more, you’re in the right place, as our rumor roundup will guide you through everything you need to know. Let’s get started.
Vision Pro 2: price and release date

Read more