Category: Blog, Business

What is Spatial Computing and What Does It Mean for Business?

Imagine revolutionizing your business with technology that seamlessly blends the digital and physical worlds. Spatial computing is here – see how you can use it for growth.

What spatial computing offers the business world

As technology progresses and companies try to find more ways to engage users with their software, new and better opportunities appear. With the appearance of computers in offices and homes, programs like Microsoft Excel or Word set a new standard in utility software. These apps perfectly adapt to 2D monitor screens and help solve user problems.

The customer experience is great, and users are happy – however, there’s still a barrier between a person and the software. It’s only displayed on your monitor screen. The next step and a real revolution is to bring that software into the users’ world so they can control the software environment with their bodies, not with a keyboard and mouse. Human interaction with the computer should be natural and intuitive.

As a mobile developer, I work with iOS and macOS systems on a daily basis. I am aware of their limitations, which is why I am excited about the future of spatial computing technology. Let’s explore the opportunities this innovation offers to transform businesses.

What is spatial computing?

Spatial computing is a concept rather than a device or set of rules. It refers to interactive techniques between software and a user. The term spatial computing overlaps with interactive experiences like augmented reality (AR), extended reality (XR), or mixed reality (MR).

Apple Vision Pro Glasses - blending virtual and physical worlds
Source: Apple’s newsroom

Spatial computing blends the digital and physical worlds and enables interaction with a device through voice commands, eye tracking, and body gestures. Users perceive this kind of experience as happening in the real physical world. The interaction isn’t limited to two dimensions. Users can see virtual objects in their physical environments.

How does it work?

A spatial computing device is often a headset with several sensors that allows precise interaction with the real world. Typically, spatial computers have RGB and depth cameras, alongside proximity, dimension-tracking, and motion sensors.

The device is powered by an operating system that merges data gathered from these receivers and creates a virtual environment that presents spatial software to the user. Headsets are equipped with a high-density screen (one per eye). Thanks to these, users can see their real-world enhanced with 3D digital software blended into the physical surroundings.

Spatial Computing – Apple Vision Pro Glasses in action
Source: Apple’s newsroom

Not only is the visual aspect of the experience important, but sound also often plays a critical role in spatial computing. Thanks to the implementation of spatial audio, users can recognize the direction from which the sound is coming. This creates new possibilities for delving into the experience.

The evolution of spatial technologies

Technically, spatial computing is not entirely a new term. It was first used in the 80s to describe calculations involving extensive geospatial data. This is somewhat similar to today’s definition of spatial computing but on a larger scale. It’s a bit like how we use it now, but it was mostly about big areas like continents or cities back then. Nowadays, spatial computing is more about how people interact in spaces about the size of a single room or smaller.

In the 1990s, the term spatial computing re-emerged under its modern definition when the company Worldesign created a “Virtual Environment Theater” that allowed virtual flyovers of the Giza Plateau. They built a small room with screens on the walls, which enabled them to engage users in a virtual environment – something today’s spatial devices are trying to achieve, but in a more advanced way.

The term appeared in some other contexts throughout the years, but the biggest breakthrough came when Apple announced the Apple Vision Pro headset. They used the spatial computing term to describe the possibilities of their device and the system that powers it – visionOS. Apple’s headset is a spatial computer that blends the digital world with virtual content. It perfectly captures what the word spatial means in today’s world.

Leading spatial computing devices

There aren’t many spatial computing devices on the market. Bringing to life the concept of blending physical space with virtual objects requires tremendous time and resources. From systems that can support advanced forms of interaction with the digital and physical worlds to apps that can benefit from that system environment, it’s hard and involves a lot of people to work.

Companies seem more interested in virtual reality headsets, which are more limited but bring great joy to customers (for example, VR is commonly used in the gaming industry). This technology has limitations when we want to blur the line between the virtual and physical environment. Because of that, some big companies have invested in spatial computing and created their own headsets. Among the most popular are:

Magic Leap One (2018)

Leading spatial computing devices: Magic Leap – AR headset
Source: Magic Leap’s newsroom

The first generation of the headset, called Magic Leap One, was referred to as a spatial computing product, but the term was eventually abandoned in marketing. Today, the newest addition to the products family – Magic Leap 2 – is advertised as an augmented reality headset, but the device’s capabilities are very similar to those of the previously described headsets. This shows how the spatial computing term is flexible, and no valid definition exists. Devices blur the boundaries of this expression, and their functions often overlap.

Microsoft HoloLens 2 (2019)

Leading spatial computing devices: Microsoft HoloLens
Source: Microsoft

The second generation of Microsoft’s headset is available for enterprise consumers and developers. HoloLens 2 is often referred to as a mixed-reality headset, but its capabilities allow me to include it on this list. The headset runs Windows Holographic, an adjusted Windows 10 operating system. HoloLens 2 is controlled with hand gestures, voice commands, and eye tracking. Virtual apps can be placed in the physical environment to create a more engaging virtual experience. HoloLens 2 supports a rich portfolio of enterprise-specialized equipment, supporting well-known industry certifications. It’s ready to work in clean room environments and hazardous locations.

Meta Quest Pro (2022) and Meta Quest 3 (2023)

Top spatial computing devices: Meta Quest Pro and Meta Quest 3
Source: Meta

The headsets from Meta, like Quest 3 or Quest Pro, aren’t specifically devices made for spatial computing. Their primary target is the gaming industry, and they do a great job at it. The parent company – Meta – wants to participate in the spatial computing boom and is making its headsets more and more capable of doing more than just gaming. The company’s CTO called Meta Quest 3 “the best-value spatial computing headset on the market for a long time to come.“. As users report, spatial features exist in the headset system but, overall, they are not as good as competing software. For now, the Quest family is a fantastic VR gaming headset rather than a modern personal computing device.

Apple Vision Pro (2024)

Top spatial computing devices: Apple Vision Pro
Source: Apple’s newsroom

Apple’s high-profile entrance into the market is the newest addition to the world of spatial computing. Powered by the visionOS system, Vision Pro can run specifically designed apps for the headset, compatible iPad apps, or even clone a macOS screen. Users interact with the headset in a natural and intuitive way. The Apple Vision Pro is advertised as the device with the most advanced spatial technologies. The headset offers well-known apps such as Keynote, FaceTime, Disney+, and Zoom, which have been rewritten for a spatial experience. Because of a short time period on the market, many apps are unavailable on the Vision Pro but, thanks to developers, the number of apps is increasing dynamically.

If you want to learn more about this headset, read my article: Breaking Down the Apple Vision Pro: A Revolutionary Spatial Computer.

The impact of spatial computing on modern business

Spatial computing is not a common technology in business. It’s rather new and fresh, and it still has a long way to go before being commonly used in that field. On the other hand, now is a great time to jump into it. There is no big competition in the market, and app stores lack many well-known apps. What’s even better is that it’s really easy to adapt existing iOS or macOS apps to the new visionOS and Apple Vision Pro.

Spatial computing applications can prove to be handy when it comes to your regular work tools. With the possibilities of augmented reality mixed into physical spaces, digital information can become very useful. Let’s see how spatial computing is beginning to revolutionize various areas.

3D models in a real world

Spatial technology is perfect for experiencing 3D digital content with intuitive, natural interactions. Imagine a designer who creates models in 3D graphic design software. Spatial computing gives them a new way to see their work in a physical environment. The designer can place the model in their room and manipulate it to see how it interacts with simulated natural lighting and shading.

Spatial computing - business use cases
Source: Apple’s newsroom

This leads us to the next idea! A company that offers physical products, such as furniture, can build an e-commerce app where three-dimensional models of the products can be realistically displayed in customers’ places. Imagine walking through your room and seeing that armchair you saw on the website standing next to you. Companies like IKEA brought this idea to life with their augmented reality app, but such implementation has yet to become available on spatial computing devices. It’s currently only available on mobile devices.

Advanced data at your glance

The Thyssenkrupp company came up with a revolutionary idea. They adapted computer vision to optimize the process of maintaining and installing lifts. The specialist can use spatial software to analyze and repair complex elevator mechanisms.

Spatial computing - meaning for business - advances data
Source: ThyssenKrupp

This is helpful because the engineer can interact with digital content without holding any controller. They can quickly switch between manual work and selecting virtual content on the headset to help them do the job faster. It’s even possible for them to be on a call when needing some additional help while having both hands free.

A new era for healthcare innovation

Spatial computing enables the use of the real space around a user. This can help visualize complex data and 3D models in the healthcare field. Blurring the line between the virtual and physical world can help medical students better understand the human body and anatomy.

Spatial computing - use cases for healthcare
Source: Apple’s newsroom

It can even simulate surgical procedures. In the future, we can expect surgeons to benefit from spatial technology during surgery. While doctors have their hands busy, they can interact with virtual data with voice control or eye tracking.

This technology has already started to emerge in healthcare. The Sharp company is using Apple Vision Pro to create a virtual hub aimed at identifying innovative approaches to improving healthcare delivery. Doctors are sure of the benefits of using this new technology to enhance medical students’ education effectiveness.

A new dimension of your office

Headsets like Apple Vision Pro can bring your work and desk to a new dimension. Actually, you don’t need a desk now. For example, the Vision Pro lets you create immersive environments and place multiple app windows. Pinch the corner of the app to resize it, and move your hand to place it wherever you want. Thanks to that, working from home or even on an airplane can suit your needs. It’s like taking multiple monitors, a mouse, a keyboard, and the rest of your computer setup with you, but it all fits into a single backpack.

AR/VR glasses - optimizing your work
Source: Apple’s newsroom

The gain from using this kind of device as your primary work computer depends on how many work apps are available. The number of apps on the visionOS is growing rapidly. You can use Zoom or Microsoft Teams to communicate with your colleagues at work. Zoom even uses Digital Persona technology – call participants can see your 3D avatar based on your face scan. It even mimics your facial emotions. This feels like a futuristic technology knocking on your door.

App development for spatial computing

After Apple unveiled the Vision Pro headset, it was clear we would see a new generation of spatial computing apps entering the market. They created a low entry threshold for entering the visionOS App Store. Thanks to well-documented system guidelines, it’s quite easy for developers to create amazing apps for the Vision Pro.

iOS, macOS, or even watchOS and tvOS developers can adjust their code to bring the app to the visionOS App Store. It’s not necessary to create a new app from scratch, but it’s also possible. Developers can create a completely new product or convert an existing one for a spatial computing experience.

At Droids On Roids, we offer development for the whole Apple ecosystem, from iOS to visionOS. We use native SwiftUI or UIKit technology to create immersive experiences for spatial computing. Would you like to create a spatial computing app that works with Apple Vision Pro? Let’s discuss your idea!

Final thoughts

Integrating spatial computing into business heralds a new era where physical and digital worlds merge to redefine how we interact with information and our surroundings. As we’ve explored throughout this article, spatial software spans various industries, from healthcare and education to replacing our daily work-from-home tools.

Bringing products into spatial computing requires a shift in mindset, but thanks to the appearance of visionOS, it’s easier than ever to step into this technology field. The potential benefits can be undeniable. By leveraging spatial computing technologies, businesses can streamline operations or empower employees with immersive, data-rich environments. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the potential applications and benefits.

As we move forward, organizations must stay informed about the latest developments in spatial computing and integrate these technologies strategically into their business strategies. By doing so, they can not only adapt to the changing digital landscape but also drive innovation, improve productivity, and ultimately achieve sustainable growth in the years to come.

Predictions for the future of spatial computing

Spatial computing has existed for decades, but only now is it able to truly show its potential. In my opinion, we are in the moment when technology finally catches up with ambitious visions. It’s still not perfect, but we’re getting there.

When we look at the past, most of Apple’s products redefined tech standards in their field. Also, the first generations of their products were very limited. The first Apple Watch Series 0, or the original iPhone, were just a foretaste of how the technology would develop and what we could do with it. I look forward to the next generation of the Apple Vision Pro. I’m sure it will bring even more mastered technology and lower the entry threshold for new users.

Spatial computing is advancing with the latest iteration of visionOS at this year’s WWDC (Worldwide Developers Conference). The system has gained support for new features that facilitate the transition from traditional computer work, such as panoramic Mac Virtual Display, mouse compatibility, or support for editing spatial videos in Final Cut Pro. Read more about visionOS 2 on Apple’s Newsroom.

As technology continues to evolve and mature, we can anticipate even greater advancements in areas such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and sensor technology, further expanding the possibilities for businesses to create value and stay ahead in an increasingly competitive landscape.

About the authors

Tobiasz Dobrowolski

Tobiasz Dobrowolski

Mobile Developer

A mobile developer since 2018. He enjoys using technologies in apps that are rarely used on Apple platforms. Tobiasz loves implementing complex user interfaces with SwiftUI.