What has a ceiling but no floor?
To answer your burning question: no, I didn’t buy an Apple Vision Pro. Truth be told, I’m totally the guy who would have just a couple years ago. But I’m also self-aware enough to know that I would quite likely have played with it an hour or two at a time for the first week, then it would have slowed down to weekly, and then I’d feel silly for spending money on it. Like what happened with the Meta Quest. And the Oculus Go. And the HTC Vive Pro. And the HP Reverb G2 you know what let’s just move on, okay? Long story short, unless someone needs research done on them, I’m going to wait until a really good use case, if not until Apple comes out with a cheaper Vision Air.
Steven Aquino wrote about Vision Pro accessibility in Forbes last week, talking about his own vision-related disability and Apple’s list of medical considerations for using the Vision Pro. While it’s true that Apple won’t have anticipated every possible way its device can fail to be usable to a given person, or even potentially to cause them harm, it’s safe to say they’ve put a lot of consideration into it. Even their documentation on prescription lens inserts covers a lot of territory compared to what I got with the pair I have, which amounted largely to “put these in your goggles to see good.”
All this led me to flash back to playing with those Meta headsets. I remember firing up the Oculus Go for the first time and looking around in the settings to see what they exposed for accessibility. The answer was… nothing. No color contrast settings, no font settings, no visual cues, no captions, no magnification, no adjustments for shorter statures, no support for left- or right-only controller usage, no screen reader. Nada. Three years and two generations of device later, Meta released colorblindness and stature features—settings that made global changes to the device, without making developers adapt their apps. It took five years from the release of the Go for a passable set of built-in accessibility tools to appear on their fourth standalone headset, the Meta Quest 3.
When you make a hardware or software platform for others to build on, you alone set the ceiling for how accessible it can be. The difference between Apple and Meta is that Apple also sets the floor. The Vision Pro, along with every new hardware line Apple has released since the original iPad, has had accessibility APIs and features built in from the start. They were defined in advance. Accessibility is a top-level category in the visionOS documentation, and there are polished instructions for app designers and engineers. Where Quest apps all have to build a lot of their own accessibility stack, Apple has taken the initiative to make sure it’s a coherent experience between app and platform. This speaks to just how much more comprehensive their understanding is of the issues at hand.
This is a lesson that extends to any operating system, social network, or web framework. If you want to build a platform that supports disabled users, you have to build supports for disabled users yourself. It’s your responsibility to show users where to put alt text for their images (if not require them to do so). It’s your responsibility to manage color and font preferences, keyboard shortcuts, system-wide settings for captions, etc. in advance.
Anything you do not offer, those who build on your platform will not be able to use. You are setting the ceiling for the accessibility of anything that’s built. And worse, if you let it go so long that third parties start to build tools of their own, it can become nearly impossible to build a unified, usable set of tools from there. Mostly, what happens when you don't set a floor for accessibility, nobody does accessibility work. And that's a problem for any platform that wants to grow, much less expand into spaces like education.
These are the things I look at when new products come out. It has cost Apple and Meta billions in research and development to get to where they are in the mixed-reality device space. A lot of people will see one company that’s sold millions of devices, and one that’s sold zero. But when I see one manufacturer that’s actually thought out the details and one that hasn’t, it’s not hard to predict who’s going to win.