Entertainment

Meta CTO Andrew Bosworth on the new $1,500 Quest Pro and challenges with Horizon Worlds

“We do think this is a general compute platform that is going to be attractive to everyone … And productivity is something that's not exclusive [to the] enterprise.”

Andrew 'Boz' Bosworth, Facebook advertising expert, speaks the 'Online Marketing Rockstars (OMR)' fair at the fair grounds in Hamburg, Germany, 3 March 2017. Photo: Christian Charisius/dpa | usage worldwide (Photo by Christian Charisius/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Andrew "Boz" Bosworth told Protocol about Meta's new product.

Photo: Christian Charisius/picture alliance via Getty Images

Meta’s new Quest Pro VR headset costs $1,500, the company revealed at its Connect developer conference Tuesday. The company justifies the price of the Quest Pro with its range of technical improvements, including eye- and face-tracking sensors for better avatar animation, redesigned controllers, color pass-through for immersive mixed-reality experiences, and a higher visual fidelity that makes it possible to read texts and do other work-related tasks without straining the eyes.

However, Meta isn’t positioning the Quest Pro as an enterprise device, and is instead using traditional retail channels to sell the headset to prosumers and VR enthusiasts for both work and play. In a conversation with Protocol, Meta CTO Andrew Bosworth spoke about the positioning of the Quest Pro, its price tag, and the types of features that could find their way from the Quest Pro to future consumer Quest models.

Bosworth also addressed recent criticism of Horizon Worlds (including a leaked memo in which metaverse VP Vishal Shah announced a “quality lockdown” for the rest of the year) as well the impact of the current economic climate on the company’s VR investments.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and brevity.

With the Quest Pro, Meta is putting a bigger emphasis on work, and the price is out of reach for many consumers. At the same time, Meta is still selling it through consumer channels, and not directly targeting the enterprise like Microsoft or Magic Leap do. So who is this device for?

This is definitely still a prosumer device. We want to expand to work cases, but relative to the price of a HoloLens, we're not necessarily in the same ballpark.

There's this whole spectrum. On one hand, you have consumer [devices]. Consumers want things lighter and cheaper, [with a] more attractive industrial design. Adjacent to that, you get to enterprise, where people are willing to tolerate a little more cost, a little more heft, a little less design in exchange for more functionality. As you move further out, you get to industrial use, and military, where you've seen HoloLens and Magic Leap target their energy.

We're still pretty far from [these] industrial, military applications. We do think this is a general compute platform that is going to be attractive to everyone. We've seen gaming now. We've seen fitness. And productivity is something that's not exclusive [to the] enterprise. People buy laptops and phones in consumer channels, and use them both personally and professionally.

I will say that you're certainly right: The price is higher. There's a lot of factors driving that, but the biggest one is that we are working hard on completely novel technologies that don't have a deep supply chain around them yet.

Will this kind of tech eventually find its way into the Quest consumer line of headsets?

There are some things that we definitely want to continue to advance. Mixed reality and social presence are two features that bring a lot of extra cost, weight, thermal to the headset. For eye tracking and face tracking, it's a lot of extra cameras. In the case of mixed reality, it's cameras and compute. Those are really features that we're excited to see how people react to with Quest Pro. That's going to inform the degree to which we [bring them to] different form factors.

There's other things that are going to be harder, like resolution and super-high visual clarity. Those are things that really, at some point, you have to pay for. So there are some features that we can imagine finding a way to fit them into the Quest line over time. And there are some features that there's not an obvious path to getting them into the Quest line, and they're going to be closer to the Quest Pro.

Can we expect Meta to move to a tick-tock release cycle, with new Quests and Quest Pros coming out in alternating years?

It's hard to commit to these things. We play with a ton of different prototypes. Some of them, we decide to greenlight for products. Some of them, we don't. We definitely want to keep advancing the industry. We don't think that VR is at a completely stable state yet. I don't think you can wait a huge amount of time between releases yet, as we're still seeing a lot of growth in the marketplace.

Mixed reality, and building that out as a platform that's robust, has a supply chain that allows it to be affordable; that's a really important piece. So we're definitely trying to continue to push the industry forward, and one of the best ways we know how to do that is to release these devices that demonstrate to people what can be done.

Some recent reporting has pointed to technical challenges with your social VR world Horizon Worlds, to the point where you’ve locked down development and were facing challenges with a lack of use internally. What’s your response to that?

There was a great article from Kashmir Hill in The New York Times [the other day]. She spent a bunch of time in Horizon; I think it's probably the most representative of what that product is that we've seen externally, warts and all. It's a good summary of where we are.

We've just moved so quickly on Horizon Worlds over the last 18 months, especially the last year. It's a lot of little things [that need to be addressed], and those little things can become overwhelming. [It’s] hard to do the big feature work when you've got these little quality pieces. Lockdowns are a pretty common tool that we use. When you're doing software development, there's [often] one major feature you're working on, or one major problem.

I thought the quotes from Vishal that were in the article you referenced were spot on. We care about quality. We're going to stop the other work for now and focus on the quality and build that out. As Kashmir said in her article, there are great communities flourishing on Worlds. Yes, it's small, it's early. We get that. That's just the nature of VR.

What does that mean for the mobile and web versions of Horizon?

When you realize that you have a quality problem, you don't forge ahead to get more people to use the software. You stop; you fix the quality problem. You don't want someone's first exposure to your software to be that they ran into a bug. We want to make sure that people's first impressions are good ones. It's honestly a very conventional prioritization for a business like ours.

How much more challenging is it to take on these issues in the current economic climate?

It's a challenging time. It's challenging for the global economy, and it's particularly challenging for our industry. There is a lot of distraction, a lot of overhead. Having said that, if we're doing our jobs as a management team, hopefully we're the ones taking on that distraction. We're the ones taking on that overhead, and the overwhelming majority of people in Reality Labs are able to be heads-down and focused on what they're doing.

Certainly, you make the road map changes that you need to make. You say: We were taking a couple of extra bets over here, let's consolidate. We're not going to build this piece anymore, we're going to focus on that piece. Maybe you lose some option value. But in exchange for that, you also get a little more focus, you gain some clarity of vision. It's not always a bad thing.

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