Rome Wasn't Built in a Day: The Rise of Spatial Computing
Bryan Pelz    June 19, 2024
When Apple Vision Pro launched, it sparked excitement and skepticism. Priced at $3,500, many saw it as a niche product, not yet ready for mainstream adoption. I was just at WWDC in Apple Park in Cupertino, and all signs are that Apple’s support for Vision Pro is for the long term.
As an entrepreneur, I must decide what to invest my time in. I spoke with a fellow entrepreneur two years ago, and we discussed my new Spatial-focused startup. He told me, “If I believed today that soon things would shift to Spatial, I would drop everything right now and focus 100% on that.” I only partially convinced him then, and hopefully today, I can convince you that soon, we’ll be seeing one of the most significant shifts ever in computing. And if you’re an entrepreneur or investor, perhaps you might consider Spatial a massive opportunity akin to the transition from desktop to mobile a dozen years ago.
Looking at the history of technological innovation, we see that early adoption phases occasionally lead to widespread acceptance and growth. This happens more often when multiple anchor tenants of the technology space collectively invest tens of billions in an emerging sector. This level of investment indicates that something significant is on the horizon. Rome wasn’t built in a day, nor will the future of Spatial computing.

We can't predict the future with certainty, but we can listen to experts and observe the actions of major companies like Apple and Meta. Building a model, even imperfect, can help us think through issues that will help us navigate probable paths ahead.
Below is my inaccurate and incomplete model, which I'll update as new information arises. At Bootloader, it gives us perspective on the magnitude and timing of the opportunity that we see in Spatial. The model consists of five phases. One could superimpose “Crossing the Chasm” thinking on top of this model (which I do), but I’ll keep it simple here.

On another note, I’ll state my views as simply as possible here, using strong statements and no waffle words. You should understand that I view this model as an imperfect working model. It’s incorrect. But the fact that it’s incorrect doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have a model, and the fact that I enunciate a model doesn’t mean I think I’m right. But I hope these are educated and informed guesses, and as we all move forward together in time, I’ll refine these “good enough” models to be more accurate as more information comes in.
Perfect is the enemy of good, and “good enough” is an early-stage entrepreneur’s best friend. At least, I think so.

Here are my five stages of my “good enough” model for Spatial:

Prehistory: VR

You might say, “Wait a minute, but we’ve had VR for a long time. Isn’t that Spatial?” It’s important to delineate that Spatial is fundamentally different from VR. While VR excels at first-person shooters and fantastic experiences detached from physical reality, Spatial integrates digital elements into the real world, changing how we interact in and with our physical surroundings.

That’s important. Why? If you assume that the future is all VR, then you might think that, as a result, we will all be role-playing as floating torsos and heads in something called the metaverse. The fact is that our brains developed to feel at home in Spatial reality. We don’t like putting on a VR headset that shuts us off from the rest of the world around us. That’s too much of a commitment unless it’s for something fantastic where total escape from the world around us is our objective. In my view, that’s the exception; it's not the rule.
Initial Hurdles
2024 marks the introduction phase of Spatial. High costs and initial skepticism are significant barriers. Consumers are wary of investing in a device that doesn't yet have a clear use case or a significant app ecosystem. Remember when the first iPhone came out? It was revolutionary and yet limited in functionality. Today, smartphones and the app ecosystem have become indispensable, with many mainstay apps we did not conceive a dozen years ago when the iPhone app store launched. I believe we can expect a similar trajectory for Spatial.
People have said that Vision Pro will be the worst spatial device Apple will ever introduce. I believe that. They’ll only get better. Vision Pro is a giant leap forward, just like the iPhone. If you’re a skeptic, you should sit this version out. The Spatial trend can be your friend if you're an entrepreneur. There’s nothing like a blue ocean. They don’t come along that often. I think we’re seeing a generational opportunity to create category-definers in Spatial.

Early Growth:
As prices drop and more applications become available, we’ll see an increase in adoption. Apple's presumed strategy to introduce lower-priced options soon will be crucial. We’ve seen the inverse when Meta launched a more expensive headset, and sales dropped. There is a lot of price sensitivity, especially in the introduction and early growth phases.
Apps (and content services) will continue to explore the potential of Spatial computing, making the devices more attractive to a broader audience. This period is akin to the early days of the iPhone App Store, where developers began creating innovative solutions that we now take for granted.
Right now, there are very few Spatial-native apps. These applications and use cases don’t make as much sense on mobile, desktop, or VR formats. Most available apps in the visionOS app store have been adapted from their mobile or desktop versions.
The best apps for Spatial haven’t hit the market yet. In 2025, we’ll see some exciting Spatial-native apps. I’d argue that there are hundreds of categories of Spatial-native apps that people haven’t even considered building yet—that’s one of the most exciting aspects of what’s to come in Spatial. At Bootloader, we're excited to build one of the first Spatial-native apps.
Growth Phase:
By 2027, the market will be more diverse. Various companies will offer different Spatial devices at multiple price points, catering to a broader audience. Components will get cheaper. People discover more value and use cases they’re willing to pay for.
The introduction of more Spatial-native applications will help drive this growth. Think about how smartphones evolved from simple communication tools to devices we rely on for almost every aspect of our daily lives. Spatial computing will follow a similar path, with diverse offerings driving market expansion. By 2027, the total number of headsets in the market will be in the tens of millions and will have grabbed the attention of vast numbers of entrepreneurs and investors. Entrepreneurs will still see a blue ocean, but investors will begin to see red.
Eyeglass-Driven Expansion:
The biggest game-changer in the adoption of Spatial will be the development of eyeglass-like devices that are comfortable, lightweight, and capable. Currently, people use Spatial headsets in contexts similar to where they might use their laptops. Will we see eyeglasses that are heads-up displays earlier? Yes, they’re entering the market right now. Less capable than headsets, these eyeglasses are, for most use cases, basically augmented reality (AR) heads-up displays for your phone, similar to how a smartwatch provides you with a crystalized vignette of what’s going on on your phone. But like VR, AR is not really Spatial. Spatial, for me, involves more capability, including world-anchored digital information, items, and even embodied AIs.
Once Spatial devices have an eyeglass form factor, things will get interesting quickly. This is when Spatial devices will start to replace mobile phones. You’ll use them everywhere. Today, around 1 billion smartphones are sold every year. A decade from now, we’ll see billions of Spatial devices worn 16 hours a day. This phase will see rapid market expansion as these devices become more accessible and practical for everyday use.
Spatial computing is on a trajectory similar to many transformative technologies before it. Early adoption might be slow, but inevitably, Spatial will become a staple of everyday life.
Entrepreneurs and investors have a unique opportunity to shape and define this emerging category. The journey will be long, but the potential rewards make it worthwhile. Rome wasn’t built in a day, nor will the future of Spatial computing, but the foundation is already being laid.
© 2024 Bootloader Studio Holdings Private Limited.
All rights reserved.