Meta holds an optimistic view of the release of Apple Vision Pro and considers Meta to be the “future Android” in the market.
Citing sources familiar with the matter, The Wall Street Journal reported that Meta’s executives believe Apple’s entry into the XR market will “validate Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s bold bet and attract more consumers.”
These sources believe that Meta’s executives see Meta as a major competitor to Apple in the spatial computing field, playing a similar role to what Android does in today’s smartphone market.
During an interview, Zuckerberg stated that Apple’s products validate Meta’s significant investments in AR and VR. In a town hall meeting, Zuckerberg told Meta employees that the announcement of Vision Pro makes him “more excited and is important in many ways for what we are doing and for driving the success of the project.”
However, the idea that Meta XR (spatial computing) is equivalent to Android poses a significant problem.
Android is a semi-open software platform where any phone manufacturer can integrate the Android open-source core for free and without licensing, and can integrate Google’s services and Google Play Store by agreeing to certain compatibility standards and pre-installing Google’s app suite.
On the other hand, Meta’s Quest platform is exclusive to Meta devices, and its strategy seems more like trying to become a second Apple rather than Google’s strategy with Android, which sounds more like BlackBerry than Android, and the market combination of iPhone and Android stifled BlackBerry.
Furthermore, Google itself seems to be preparing to become the “Android of spatial computing”. Google is building an “Android XR” platform to support Samsung’s XR headsets. Google will be able to bring the entire ecosystem of Android phone and tablet applications, and Samsung will be able to prioritize its subsidiary’s OLED microdisplays and other key components based on its expertise in hardware.
However, there are significant differences between the XR market and the smartphone market, making this comparison limited.
Meta sells the Quest headset at cost, sometimes even at a loss. Without reaching a high revenue-sharing agreement, this would severely erode Google’s profits, and hardware companies like Samsung may not want to directly compete with Quest in the short term, especially with the rumored Quest 3 Lite. Reportedly, the price of Samsung’s XR headset is around $2000.
Before being able to produce remarkable headsets at a low cost, Meta can continue its monopoly on low-cost mass-market devices, while Apple and Google compete for the smaller market of early adopters.
However, Meta’s strategy also undermines its long-term goal of becoming the Android of the XR market. Although the company is reportedly collaborating with LG to develop future Quest Pro devices, it is unlikely to establish such partnerships for low-cost headsets. Without a new revenue-sharing agreement, Meta’s profits will be significantly reduced, and most hardware companies have little incentive to enter this subsidized market. It is a market more similar to gaming consoles, where the platform holder is also the hardware supplier, rather than smartphone manufacturers.
The issue of pure hardware partners wanting to profit in a subsidy-dominated market can be likened to what killed the 3DO game console in the 1990s, why so many Android phone manufacturers exited the market in the 2010s, and why the Steam Deck is a first-party device rather than a device ecosystem like the failed Steam machine.
Although Meta has been ahead of Apple and Google in entering the XR field for ten years, until 2018, Meta mainly focused on PC VR. Apart from scattered integrations for game engines such as Unity, Meta failed to build its own software development platform and did not create its significant first-party app suite outside Horizon Workrooms.
Today’s Quest is a validated and successful gaming headset, but Meta has not established a clear path for it to become a competitive general computing platform. Aside from gaming studios, Meta also lacks any real moats. Quest uses the same Qualcomm chipset, displays that Samsung and other companies can access and use, and Google has a world-class computer vision team.
What’s worse is that Quest’s system software and mobile apps are plagued with quality and design issues. Although I initially expected these to be temporary issues during the company’s busy transition period, the software still has so many unresolved issues in 2024, which does not inspire confidence.
The reason for being optimistic about Meta is that its current software quality issues may be resolved in the coming years. Neither Apple nor Google has encountered well-funded vertically integrated competitors willing to drive the development of their platforms through hardware subsidies. If the potential scale of Quest cannot be realized, Google’s foray could fail, as consumers would opt for Meta’s affordable products.
However, if Google enters the market with a perfect alternative that features the Play Store and integrates seamlessly with existing Android devices and services, Quest software may still have its shortcomings. Besides, high-quality hardware offered by partners like Samsung with existing retail and marketing capital may make Meta an unwelcome third choice, akin to the BlackBerry of spatial computing. In this scenario, all of Meta’s investments and research would be as useful to them as Xerox PARC was to Xerox.
We cannot be certain about how the future of XR will unfold, and newcomers like Amazon or Valve may even completely change the landscape. But what is clear is that despite investing hundreds of billions of dollars, Meta’s position as a major competitor to Apple in spatial computing is far from certain and it will depend on execution quality, not just investment scale.
“93913 Original Content, please indicate the source when reposting”