Apple's Vision Pro Is Already Influencing the Next iPhone
It looks like the Vision Pro is going to send major ripples throughout Apple’s entire ecosystem of products when it launches.
The iPhone, the metal and glass rectangle we all know and love, is some of the most valuable tech real estate out there. To put it another way: If the iPhone was the Roku remote, Hulu, Vudu, and the like would be falling over themselves to be on it. Or they would be, if Apple “sold” its valuable “land” to anyone other than itself.
In fact, in the nearly two decades that Apple’s smartphone has existed, little has been done to shake up the core set of buttons on the outside of the device. If there’s anything that can hint at Apple’s intentions, it’s changes to things as permanent as buttons. Some have moved (power button) and others have been removed (home button), but generally speaking, Apple has refrained from adding any new ones.
With the iPhone 16, that may no longer be the case. Apple is reportedly adding a “capture” button for recording video and, presumably, photos, which both MacRumors and Bloomberg say could make its way to all the iPhone 16 models. The new button, releasing the same year as the company’s first headset-shaped computer and an entirely new “spatial video” format Apple is trying to get off the ground, could very well position the upcoming iPhone 16 as the Vision Pro's biggest companion. More importantly, it could set up the Vision Pro as one of the biggest influences on Apple’s existing products going forward.
Now, to say there have been no changes to the iPhone’s few remaining physical inputs is a bit disingenuous. The iPhone 15 Pro is the most recent example of Apple trying to change how the buttons on an iPhone work. The mute switch, long the only way for silencing calls and other notifications, went from being a physical switch on the iPhone 14 to a customizable “Action” button on the iPhone 15 Pro that can do everything from triggering shortcuts to automatically opening Apple's Translate app.
Apple reportedly had even bigger plans originally, hoping to introduce the Action button as a pressure-sensitive solid-state button that would vibrate to simulate a button press, just like MacBook trackpads. The hardware wasn't finalized before launch, and the iPhone 15 uses a traditional button, but it seems like Apple hasn’t given up entirely. The “capture” button, as MacRumors claims the new button has been called internally, is haptic. It will supposedly be located on the lower right side of all iPhone 16 models. Perfect placement for using it like you would a shutter button on a traditional camera when an iPhone is rotated horizontally with the camera lenses in the upper left.
Apple has also frequently tied products to the iPhone to guarantee or at least aid in their success.
The iPhone has always been as much of a “creation” device as it is a “consumption” one, and that’s only become more true as the cameras have gotten better and the screens brighter. Apple has also frequently tied products to the iPhone to guarantee or at least aid in their success. The Apple Watch might be an increasingly standalone device, but it still only works as an accessory to the iPhone. AirPods are great in their own right, but they’re practically an essential purchase since iPhones no longer have headphone jacks.
A button isn't the only thing that’s suggesting Apple wants people to use the iPhone 16 to create spatial videos for the Vision Pro. The thing that’s going to make it actually possible is a new camera layout designed for shooting in the 3D format. The iPhone 15 Pro is Apple’s only phone that’s currently able to capture spatial video because its main and ultra-wide lenses are side by side when you hold the phone horizontally — a necessity for capturing spatial videos with Apple’s method. The company reportedly plans on bringing the same approach to non-Pro iPhone 16 models by repositioning its two cameras from a diagonal orientation to one that resembles the iPhone 11 and 12 camera modules.
The idea of a killer app is outdated at this point. Multiple products have launched and come into their own after the fact, without a clear-cut use case or desirable feature. Even a few of Apple’s own products fit this bill. The iPad was considered by some to be just a “big iPhone” when it launched, but its unique large-screen apps and Apple Pencil support have grown it into something that straddles smartphones and laptops. The Apple Watch was positioned as Apple’s next big communication device when it launched, but has fit more comfortably in the roles of a fitness tracker, notification manager, and general health tool. The Vision Pro will likely benefit from a similar wait-and-see approach.
That being said, having some reason to exist does help, and the one Apple is most obviously advertising — at least to tech enthusiasts — is spatial video. Maybe including the feature in the iPhone 15 Pro forced its hand in some way, but it seems like Apple wants people to start building out a library of spatial video content for the Vision Pro, and it’s trying to make that as easy as possible, as soon as possible.
From the limited reactions to what Apple’s pulled off, with Inverse's own Raymond Wong claiming the experience nearly brought him to tears, it seems like the company made the right bet. Access to the Vision Pro headset has been so controlled since Apple announced it that there’s a certain air of “wow” to all coverage that will likely be dull once people start testing the headset for review, but it seems like there’s something there. At the very least, Apple is trying to keep the moment magic, rather than reducing “spatial video” on the “Vision Pro” to viewing 3D videos on a VR headset.
A New Sun to Orbit Around?
At $3,500, the Vision Pro is too expensive to replace the iPhone, but based on how CEO Tim Cook has discussed augmented reality in the past, there’s no denying that it’s the most preferred version of Apple’s future. The company needs something new because the vice-like grip it holds on how iPhones work for developers (and anyone who doesn't own an iPhone) isn't going to stand forever in this current environment.
In the meantime, the Vision Pro will likely exert influence over Apple's other products in the company's effort to make it more of a success. The iPhone will reportedly get new microphones that are better able to distinguish voices from background noise for improved Siri, but I can’t see why they couldn’t be used for better audio in spatial videos? The design of visionOS could very easily make its way back to the iPhone, iPad, and Mac. Apple has already introduced translucent UI elements across all three, so why not something more complete like the Vision Pro uses? If iOS 7 influenced macOS with its flat UI, I don’t see why visionOS couldn’t influence iOS or Apple’s other software platforms. Apple’s phone OS could use an aesthetic tweak every once in a while to keep things fresh.
The design of visionOS could very easily make its way back to the iPhone, iPad, and Mac
Even accessory devices like the Apple Watch and AirPods could have a role to play. We already know the updated version of the USB-C AirPods Pro supports lossless audio for the Vision Pro. The Apple Watch could offer similarly beneficial integration, maybe even acting as another input method for the headset. The sky is the limit in terms of how Apple decides to tangle the Vision Pro with its other products. In the effort to get something as new as mixed reality off the ground, we should expect more of it, not less.