At its 2023 Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple debuted the Apple Vision Pro, a new virtual reality headset, and visionOS, an operating system dedicated to virtual reality. Apple joins companies like Meta and Steam in creating a virtual reality engine, and numerous companies like Samsung, Meta, HTC, Qualcomm, and many others in creating a virtual reality headset. One of the goals of virtual reality engines is to entirely change the way we interact with the world and the internet. With that being the case, are static websites — and their platforms, like WordPress — archaic technology on their way out of relevance?
Early attempts at virtual reality
Virtual reality has been attempted as far back as the 1980s. Perhaps the first attempt at virtual reality to gain significant notoriety was Nintendo’s Virtual Boy, released in 1995. Unfortunately for Nintendo, the price of the Virtual Boy ($179.95, or around $360 in today’s money) and a lack of features — such as a monochrome display instead of a color one — substantially hampered sales. While it was cheaper than other 32-bit consoles of the time (like the first Playstation, which released only a few months later), it was significantly more expensive than Nintendo’s own Game Boy. It also wasn’t truly portable, as Nintendo promised a harness to allow use of the Virtual Boy while standing but never released one.
More recently, Oculus (now owned by Facebook’s Meta) made a push in the VR space, first releasing the Oculus Rift, then the Rift S, Quest, and Quest 2. Sony has released a PlayStation VR and VR 2, and other companies have released higher-priced models, such as Varjo’s $5,800 VR-2 and $3,195 VR-3. Many current VR headsets land in the $400-800 range, but some even approach a high-four-figure amount, such as the VRgineers VRHero 5K, which released in 2017 for a whopping $9,000.
Apple, the disruptor
When Apple announced their Apple Vision Pro headset on June 5, 2023, it entered an already-crowded VR space. Apple has never been known as a company to produce a new type of product before anyone else, but they have revolutionized existing industries before. Apple didn’t develop the first computer, but were the first to introduce a mouse to computing. They didn’t invent portable music players, but the iPod dominated the market once it entered it. Mobile phones were revolutionized when Apple introduced multitouch with the iPhone, and they did the same thing to the tablet space with iPad.
Apple’s augmented reality experience seems vastly different from everything else on the market right now, which begs the question, will Apple transform the AR and VR space too? Apple certainly seems to think so. They refer to this new device as an introduction to “spacial computing” and focus on immersive 3D experiences. So where does that leave two-dimensional websites?
One thing to notice in Apple’s WWDC keynote is that they mentioned Safari on multiple occasions. They do see people continuing to browse the internet even in a 3D space. In fact, many of the apps they showed on the Apple Vision Pro allowed 2D content to be displayed in a 3D space, be it a movie, the Photos app, or the Safari web browser. Certainly new apps with immersive 3D experiences will be front-and-center, but, at least for now, 2D experiences aren’t going away and should be a part of the 3D experience.
How do website owners keep up?
Apple’s new visionOS joins Meta’s Oculus, SteamVR, Windows Mixed Reality, and several other platforms available for AR or VR. A t, the space is far from maturity. Over time, we will likely gain clarity on which of these platforms are here to stay and which ones will fade away. At that point, website owners will have a better idea of which platforms they need to support. However, we can draw a few conclusions regardless of the platform.
In the early days of the Web, websites needed to support a few specific resolutions. At first, 640×480 was a common screen size, and later, 1024×768 became more common, and later 1920×1080 HD. Mobile phones and tablets added a greater number of screen sizes and resolutions into the mix. Of course, users can open a browser on a computer without making it full-screen, so websites have already needed to look good at every screen size and resolution. This will continue to be true in the AR and VR space, where browsers can be stretched to any size.
Readability and clarity
The new Apple Vision Pro will offer more pixels than a 4K TV on each eye’s display, so everything will look incredibly sharp and clear. However, other AR and VR platforms have varying degrees of clarity, so it’s important to make sure your text is large enough to read clearly. Over time, AR and VR systems are likely to become higher-resolution, just as smartphones have, but it’s always important to make sure lower-resolution devices won’t have a problem with your website.
It is very unlikely that WordPress will delve into the world of AR and VR, but that doesn’t mean websites will suddenly become obsolete. In addition, none of these challenges are new. Hopefully, your website is already completely compatible with AR and VR devices. If not, it won’t take too much effort to catch up to this emerging technology.