Apple Vision Pro Timing Debate
A question I’m hearing coming up more frequently is about the timing of Apple Vision Pro. Before launch, my primary question for Apple launching a head-worn computer was, why now? While I agree with a broad consensus that there is a market for head-worn computers, I perhaps differ slightly with the view on when this market will emerge at any significant global scale. I’m still confidently in the camp that the market for head/face-worn computers is still many years away from being mainstream. And when I say many years away, I mean more than three and more likely five years at least. This was the primary reason I heavily questioned Apple releasing a head-worn computer in 2023, knowing any significant scale in this category is years away.
Fast forward to the launch of Apple Vision Pro. Part of my question was answered when I got the demo of Vision Pro. The answer to why it launched now is simply because it is ready. The experience is there, even if the price is not. For more on this point, I encourage a read of this entire article by Benedict Evans. Benedict makes a similar point to mine: Apple Vision Pro is the baseline experience, or minimum viable product, to mainstream this category. We have to now wrestle with two other dynamics circulating around this discussion of the Apple Vision Pro timing.
I’ve had several conversations with investors on the sell-and-buy side about this new category for Apple. Another question being brought up by this audience, and some others, is about Apple’s supply chain challenges. Everyone in deep talks with the supply chain knows Apple can’t manufacture this product at scale yet, and even recent reports suggest it may be even more difficult to manufacture in even minuscule volumes than perhaps Apple previously thought. So even if the product experience is ready, neither the price nor the manufacturing is there. This brings us back to a why ship now situation.
Part of me wonders if Apple is taking some key learnings from Apple Watch and applying them to this product launch and roll-out. If you recall, Apple launched the watch with three pillars of experiences but evolved the product, or pivoted, to the core experience that seemed to have the most significant impact on market adoption–health. Where Apple Watch started was not what it evolved into becoming, and a lot of that was Apple taking market feedback and learning where to take the product.
Similarly, I think Apple themselves have many questions about where to take Vision Pro. Questions you can’t get answered until people outside Apple’s doors start using it and giving you feedback. This is why I believe this rollout will be highly controlled, tempered to a degree, so Apple can use the early customer feedback to evolve more of the product going forward.
The other obvious answer to why now, even if they can’t make enough devices to come close to satisfying demand, is to catalyze their developer ecosystem. This category requires a robust and active third-party developer community to develop in Apple’s favor.
Ultimately, Apple had to start somewhere. Even if the reports are true that Apple simply can’t manufacture more than 500k, potentially even less, due to supply chain challenges and complex manufacturing issues, Apple needs to work those issues out at a scale they could not get simply by doing prototype after prototype the next few years. To get the costs down, Apple needs to ship and at the end of the day they determined now is the time.