XR Developer News - February 2024

XR Developer News - February 2024
The Apple Vision Pro Developer Strap

Welcome to the second XR Developer News monthly round up! It was an interesting month again this time with lots and lots of Vision Pro / vision OS news (unsurprisingly), which drowned out the rest of the XR ecosystem for a few weeks. But, as you can see below, there's luckily plenty of progress going on in other parts of the XR development world.

Like last time, I've tried to round everything up and sprinkle in a bit of analysis & opinion here and there. Especially the events section is quite busy this time, with a lot happening over the next week or so, so definitely check that out. Enjoy!

Apple Vision Pro

Clearly this month the XR news was dominated by Apple launching Vision Pro and visionOS. I've had a chance to play with one for a bit, but I'll spare you the review, because I think we're all more than saturated by those for now (I highly recommend David Heaney's review at UploadVR for a proper expert deepdive) and we should just get going building interesting apps for the device.

Below I've tried to filter the deluge of news about Vision Pro to those topics that are most relevant for developers, so here goes:

  • Apple started selling a $300 Developer Strap, allowing developers to connect a Vision Pro to a Mac by USB-C connection for a speed increase compared to WiFi and some other thing like high quality video capture and OS downgrades. 9to5Mac has written several detailed articles on it and Dilmer Valecillos has a video about it.
    • Considering the $300 price I would only consider purchasing it if you're really doing a lot of visionOS work on a daily basis, and the small increase in deploy speeds and therefore iteration speed at some point starts paying off.
Credit: 9to5Mac
  • After Unreal Engine support conspicuously being absent during the announcement of the Vision Pro, likely because of the App Store legal fight between Epic and Apple, it seems Epic is now "planning to ship Experimental support for Apple Vision Pro’s Full Immersion Style (Full Immersion) in Unreal Engine 5.4." but still "evaluating support for Progressive and Mixed Immersive Spaces (Shared Space)".
  • Unity meanwhile is trying to make the most of its head start, proudly announcing Vision Pro support moving to production, although it's still gated to Unity Pro subscribers, which has a pretty significant price tag associated with it. Unity is organizing two webinars about the topic as well and recently updated its visionOS template project (video).
  • A few developer perspectives were shared, some by Apple, but there was also an interesting interview by Kent Bye in his Voices of VR podcast with the developer of the Juno YouTube viewer app.
1349: Building Juno for YouTube visionOS App with iOS developer Christian Selig – Voices of VR Podcast
  • Some early analysis of the visionOS App Store market (now numbering more than 1000 spatial apps) started popping up, such as a thorough analysis by Tom Ffiske of Immersive Wire and a decent article by TechCrunch. Unsurprisingly, the actual market is still tiny right now, with the user base being predictably equally tiny.
  • Apple released betas of visionOS 1.1, with the biggest change for developers apparently being that "users will now be able to reposition volumetric scenes much closer than before, which will enable easier direct interaction with the volumetric scene content". It will also add support for managing the Vision Pro device management (MDM) systems.
  • If you're thinking of building an app for Vision Pro, you might want to consider giving it a name starting with an A, increasing user retention as the apps on the visionOS home screen are sorted alphabetically. However, websites starting with an A (or any other letter for that matter) are out of luck, demonstrating subtly that hoping for the web to be an equal citizen to apps on a new Apple platform is no more likely to be realistic than on it has been on iOS.

Meta Quest

While the Vision Pro hype took over the world for a week or two, XR incumbent Meta (probably sensibly) decided to keep its head down and let the initial storm pass by, before finally responding. The most detailed response I heard was by Andrew Bosworth in his podcast interview with Matthew Ball, which is definitely worth listening to.

Boz to the Future Episode 18: The Future According to Matthew Ball | Meta Quest-blog
Welcome back for another episode of Boz To The Future, a podcast from Reality Labs. In today’s episode, our host, Meta CTO and Head of Reality Labs Andrew “Boz” Bosworth, is joined by Epyllion CEO, technologist, investor, and author of The Metaverse Matthew Ball.

Meta did release v62 of the Quest operating system (release notes, analysis), with support for Apple's spatial video format. Shortly after, it also started rolling out release v62 of the various SDKs and tools it offers to developers (e.g Core SDK, Interaction SDK, Platform SDK, MR Utility Kit, Voice SDK, Simulator, etc). Meta specifically highlighted several improvements to hand tracking in this release.

Meta Quest v62 Update: Spatial Video Playback, Gamepad Support for Meta Quest Browser, and More | Meta Quest-blog
January’s in the rearview mirror, and our v62 software update is starting to roll out—bringing with it spatial video (read: stereoscopic video) playback, better support for web-based gaming, and more.
Discover the benefits of new hand tracking capabilities available in SDK v62
The Meta Quest Interaction SDK has been updated with new versatile features and usability improvements that make it easier to implement.

To showcase some of the possibilities and best practices for mixed reality games, while using several of the Meta XR SDKs, Meta published and open sourced Cryptic Cabinet, which looks like an interesting resource to check out if you're building anything like that on the Quest platform.

There were some rumors that Augments might launch in v62, but so far that hasn't panned out yet. There was even some vague news about development of Augments being stopped for AR glasses, but continuing for Quest. I guess we'll just have to hold tight a bit longer for more news on Augments. Meanwhile if you want to prepare for the (apparently) Spark-based Augments, have a look at the Spark Studio v177, v178 and v179 updates and a new tutorial video on animation timelines.

Software updates

  • Lynx released firmware v1.1.9 and Unity SDK v1.1.4 for its Lynx-R1 headset. It's good to see some signs of life from the company, because they've been relatively quiet while trying to arrange a new funding round. I really hope they pull through, because Meta and Apple could really use some scrappy competition!
  • Tilt Five released an early version of a new release of its Unreal Engine plugin, allowing for multi-glasses support. More details are in their Discord. They also teased OpenXR support as coming in the future.
    • Feels like it has been somewhat quiet around Tilt Five for a while, so it's good to see some movement. I'm quite curious what the future will hold for them, either in price drops (a multi-pack is just too expensive for the use case I think) or improved hardware.
  • Sony dropped a bit of a bombshell by announcing it is working on adding PC support to the PlayStation VR2 headset. Details are still lacking, but I wouldn't take this as a very good sign for how well sales of the PS VR2 have been going. Good news though for anyone working on PC VR titles, as this opens up a new segment of potential users (if they have sufficiently powerful PC hardware).
  • Three.js released r161.
    • If you're interested in AR on Web, I got tipped Matt Cool's blog post from December exploring various WebAR development stacks, which is a useful resource.
  • TikTok released v3.8.0 of Effect House, which amongst other things ups the size limit for effects from 5MB to 8MB.
  • Vuforia released v10.21, which adds support for Unity's Universal Render Pipeline (URP).
  • In the metaverse corner adjacent to the world of XR, Meta keeps chugging out updates to Horizon Worlds (v147 & v148, v149, v150).
What you need to know about the future of Mozilla Hubs
In this post, the Hubs team covers what our community and customers can expect for the shutdown of Hubs on May 31, 2024. The shutdown includes our demo server, managed subscription, and community resources. We encourage you to ask questions in our Discord Server: https://discord.gg/P96wxDfQ

Other XR tidbits

  • Niantic 8th Wall is running a developer challenge with a $21K cash prize pool, with submission date on March 25th (announcement blog). The challenge involves creating a WebAR experience around the concept of time travel, for instance historical or futuristic experiences. It's also organizing some online events around it.
    • 8th Wall also opened a new developer support forum. The Slack channel will remain in service, but the forum will be one to keep an eye on as well.
  • Google shared an interesting look at what goes into building a location-based AR experience based on the ARCore Geospatial API.
How We Made the CES 2024 AR Experience: Android Virtual Guide, powered by Geospatial Creator
Explore the Google for Developers Blog which provides insights and the latest news about our AI, Cloud, Mobile and Web app development announcements.
  • MIT Reality Hack ran at the end of January, resulting in a list of interesting projects winning various categories and awards, based on a wide range of XR technologies (like Looking Glass, who also shared an update on the latest happenings in their part of the ecosystem). Good stuff to have a look at for inspiration.
MIT Reality Hack 2024
The XR Hackathon

Upcoming XR events

  • February 27, 2024 - XR Creators Connect #2, an in person event in The Netherlands which I co-organize, for anyone professionally active in the field of XR in NL.
  • February 27, 2024 - Unity visionOS webinar #1: "Lifting off with visionOS:
    A creator roundtable".
  • February 28, 2024 - XR Bootcamp is hosting a presentation by the Puzzling Places team (which also posted an excellent blog post about building for Vision Pro), discussing what goes into bringing a Meta Quest game to Apple Vision Pro, followed by a roundtable about Vision Pro vs Quest 3.
  • March 3, 2024 - The Polys, the 4th edition of the annual WebXR awards. An interesting one to keep an eye on for which tech stacks are popular in the world of XR on web, such as Wonderland.
  • March 5, 2024 - Unity visionOS webinar #2: "Get started developing for Apple Vision Pro"
  • March 18-21, 2024 - NVIDIA GTC, primarily an AI conference, but there are a handful of potentially interesting XR talks in the schedule.
  • March 25, 2024 - 8th Wall Time Capsule Challenge submission deadline. See above for more details.
  • March/April, 2024 - Exact date TBD - VisionDevCamp, an Apple Vision Pro / visionOS hackathon planned to take place in the weeks after the device launch.
  • April 10-12, 2024 - Laval Virtual, a long-running XR conference in Laval, France.
  • June 18-20, 2024 - AWE USA - The mother of all XR conferences. If you've got an interesting topic, the deadline to apply as a speaker is February 28th. Super early bird rates end on March 14th.

A bit about this newsletter

The feedback I've gotten so far seems to be really positive, and the pace of one round-up per month feels good to keep the content substantial each time, while not too long between updates, so expect the next edition towards the end of March.

I thought it would be interesting to share some insights into how this has been going. So far just over 60 people subscribed for free after the first edition, which got around 400 unique visitors throughout the month (I use Plausible for analytics). Readers were mainly from USA and EU, with a lot of traffic from LinkedIn and a significant amount from Reddit. 50/50 split between mobile and desktop.

No paid Supporters yet (€5/month), which makes sense without track record. I'd love to get to at least 1% paid Supporters, so if you find that this resource is valuable to you as a professional in XR, I would really appreciate it if you would consider Supporting.

Hope you all like it! Feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn, for instance if I missed anything which definitely should be in this monthly round up next time!