Facebook is getting ready for the metaverse: The company's decision to replace outgoing CTO Mike "Schrep" Schroepfer with hardware SVP Andrew "Boz" Bosworth is not only a signal that the company is committed to AR and VR for years to come; it also shows that Facebook execs see the metaverse as a foundational technology, with the potential to eventually replace current cash cows like the company's core "big blue" Facebook app.
Bosworth has been with Facebook since 2006 and is among Mark Zuckerberg's closest allies, but he's arguably gotten the most attention for leading the company's AR/VR and consumer hardware efforts.
- Under Bosworth's leadership, Facebook refocused its VR hardware play on the standalone Oculus Quest headset, selling an estimated 8 million devices to consumers since the launch of the Quest 2 in 2020.
- Bosworth also managed to turn the company's Portal smart display from a product that was decried as a privacy nightmare into a viable competitor to devices made by Google and Amazon. "The backlash [against Portal] was very much predicted," Bosworth recently told Protocol. "It never really materialized amongst consumers."
- More recently, Bosworth has been instrumental in setting Facebook up for a major role in consumer AR. The company has been testing AR devices in the wild, and Facebook debuted its first set of smart glasses together with Ray-Ban this fall.
But Facebook's ambitions are larger than hardware. The company doesn't simply want to build and sell a couple million AR and VR devices. Instead, it plans to launch the next big platform — something it arguably missed out on when mobile first emerged, forcing it to be just another app maker in Apple's and Google's stores.
The key to that future is the metaverse. Zuckerberg has been beating the drums about the metaverse being Facebook's future for months now, even telling investors that it will require "very significant investment over many years."
- The metaverse is often described as a persistent digital world where people can interact with each other via their avatars, and then play, attend events or even work together.
- Such shorthand descriptions often lead people to confuse the metaverse with VR itself, or assume that Facebook's Horizon VR world is the company's beta version of the metaverse.
- Bosworth's promotion to CTO signals that this isn't the full picture. Instead, Facebook clearly understands the metaverse as a foundational technology that may one day tie together AR, VR and even mobile for new ways of real-time interaction.
- In other words: It's not something you build a device for; it's something you build a company for.
Facebook wants to be that company, and for some good reasons. Usage of its core Facebook app has stagnated, and executives have long warned that the stream of advertising that has made mobile social networking such a cash cow is ultimately going to slow down.
With the metaverse, the company is now betting on the next big thing. With Bosworth as CTO, it wants to have to right man for the job.
Still, there are some open questions — and no, not just about the viability of the metaverse, which we may not get real answers on for many years. Instead, we're left to wonder:
- Who will now lead Facebook's hardware efforts? It's unlikely that Bosworth will completely step away from the Facebook Reality Labs leadership, so we should expect him to put a trusted lieutenant in place.
- How will the CTO organization change under Bosworth? Schroepfer had a major focus on AI, which may become a lot more product-focused as the company begins to build assistants and other AI technologies for AR and VR. However, the outgoing CTO also oversaw engineering infrastructure, which is very far from anything Bosworth has dealt with in recent years.
- What does all of this mean for Facebook's stance on privacy and the way it talks about the subject? Bosworth has been blunt about his willingness to talk about the ugly sides of Facebook, even if it has gotten him in trouble in the past. More recently, he has defended getting technologies like camera-mounted glasses into the world to get real-life feedback for future products. "I don't fear the controversy," he recently told Protocol.
That's a significant departure from the soft-spoken Schroepfer — and it could lead to a lot more conflict down the line.
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