Valve just ended SteamVR’s support for macOS. ‘Legacy builds’ will continue to be available.
SteamVR is Valve’s PC-based virtual reality platform, supporting Windows and Linux. Mac owners can continue to use the latest versions of SteamVR by installing Windows as a secondary OS.
Facebook’s competing Oculus Rift platform hasn’t supported Macs since early development kits, which preceded the Rift. In 2016, founder Palmer Luckey claimed this was due to Apple’s lack of priority on GPU power.
Apple Went All-In
Support for macOS was announced by Apple itself during its annual developer conference in 2017. Craig Federighi, who reports directly to Tim Cook, revealed the support with excitement- VR would be a showcase of Apple’s new commitment to high performance graphics.
At the time, Apple released updates to Metal, its equivalent of Vulkan/DX12, to make it suitable for high performance low latency VR rendering, including via external GPUs on MacBooks.
The company even worked with Unity and Unreal Engine to make this available to all developers.
Later in the conference, employees from ILM gave a live on-stage mixed reality demo of VR on macOS- a Star Wars scene powered by Unreal Engine.
In September 2018, Apple added support for HTC’s Vive Pro, including giving developers access to the onboard stereo cameras, presumably for AR development.
Less than two years later, Valve is announcing ending support for macOS. Apple doesn’t seem to have made a statement on this yet, but we’ve reached out to employees who worked on Metal’s VR support.
According to Valve’s Hardware Survey, just under 4% of Steam users are using macOS, with over 95% using Microsoft’s Windows. Given that just over 1% own a VR headset at all, it’s easy to see just how niche VR on macOS likely was.
Valve states it will now “focus on Windows and Linux”. Despite being even less popular than macOS, Linux is preferred by developers, and required for certain advanced enterprise and government use cases.
Apple is reportedly working on a standalone mixed reality headset slated for 2022. The company may decide to support this in MacOS in a similar way to Facebook’s Oculus Link. Alternatively, it may have decided that the tethered market just isn’t big enough to focus on.
We’ll keep a close eye on Apple this year for any further news about its support for virtual reality.