Everything we know about Meta’s AR and VR hardware road map
Hello, and welcome to Protocol Entertainment, your guide to the business of the gaming and media industries. This Thursday, we explore what Meta’s Connect conference revealed about its AR and VR hardware plans and wonder what the deal is behind Roku’s partnership with Wyze Labs. Also: Visiting the world, in VR.
What we learned about Meta’s hardware road map this week
This week’s Meta Connect developer conference brought us a new headset, and with it a bit more clarity on how the company is approaching visual computing hardware.
Meta’s plan for AR and VR devices includes two tracks for each device category, and the company’s hardware road map is heavily influenced by its desire to build social technology for the metaverse, even if that raises the price tag.
Meta’s two-tiered VR bet came into focus when the company introduced the Quest Pro on Tuesday.
- The $1,500 headset is a high-end stand-alone device with the latest Qualcomm XR2 processor, face tracking, mixed reality with color video pass-through, and vastly improved optics that make it easier to read texts in VR.
- The company called the Quest Pro the first in a line of new high-end devices that will be released alongside the consumer Quest VR headsets.
- During a press event preceding Tuesday’s conference, execs showed a slide visualizing the Quest Pro as well as the consumer Quest development as parallel horizontal lines, with alternating dots signaling future device releases.
- What I took away from this was that we’ll see a tick-tock release cycle, with a new consumer Quest likely coming in 2023 followed by a new Pro device in 2024, and so forth.
- Meta CTO Andrew Bosworth didn’t want to commit to this when I asked him about it during an interview about the Quest Pro, and he said the company was instead turning prototypes into products as soon as the tech was ready.
Time is of the essence for Meta, and Tuesday’s Quest Pro release was also meant to preempt Apple’s plans to unveil a premium-priced high-end mixed-reality headset next year. Bosworth didn’t specifically mention Apple during our conversation, but he did convey a sense of urgency.
- “We don’t think that VR is at a completely stable state yet,” Bosworth said. “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.”
- Timing will also be key for the release of any future AR hardware, with Bosowth telling me that it might take some time until we really see consumer-ready devices.
- “We just don’t even have the V1 as an industry yet,” Bosworth said. “The technology is so new, it will probably be a while until they’re really broadly affordable.”
- Meta announced that it was building its own AR glasses in 2019, and the company teased a prototype called “Project Nazare” a year ago.
- In addition, Meta also announced this week that it is working on another set of AR glasses in partnership with Ray-Ban owner Luxottica.
- The two companies didn’t share a lot of details about these efforts this week, with Luxottica chief wearables officer Rocco Basilico only saying that the new glasses would provide “a portal to the metaverse” and that the goal was to “bring augmented reality to life with beautiful design.”
Meta is building a familiar road map. It’s not hard to imagine the company taking a similar approach with AR as it has with VR.
- Build a high-end device with all the latest sensors and features, and also debut a cheaper, less capable mass market pair of glasses with Ray-Ban, perhaps with a bigger focus on assistive technologies than full immersion.
- We’ll likely have to wait a few more years for either model. “It’s the back part of the decade when this stuff really gets big,” Bosworth told me, adding that we might see the first devices sooner than that.
- “There are a lot of similarities in terms of my urgency to get something out as a V1, get that into the hands of real people, and learn from it,” Bosworth said about AR following the path of VR.
- Building AR is taking considerably longer, however, because the industry has to invent so many things from scratch, while it could rely on existing mobile processors and displays for its first VR headsets.
Meta’s hardware road map is all about social. One of the things that makes Connect such a unique event is John Carmack’s legendary “unscripted” keynote. The former Oculus CTO is now freelancing as consulting CTO for Meta’s Reality Labs unit, and the company deserves a lot of credit for giving Carmack a forum to share his opinions on the space every year.
- This time around, Carmack spent a lot of time questioning some of the Quest Pro’s premium features that resulted in that $1,500 price tag, including the new controllers with integrated tracking sensors (“It’s not clear that it’s necessarily worth it.”), the Quest’s mixed-reality features (“I’m not the big MR advocate. I’ve yet to see real big wins from these applications.”), and the eye- and face-tracking sensors that will enable better avatar animation (“I’m not the right person to be passing judgment on something for social interaction.”).
- If it was up to Carmack, Meta would have taken the opposite direction, and built an even cheaper Quest.
- “I’ve got this rallying cry of $250 and 250 grams as a target,” Carmack said. “We’re not building that headset today, but I’ll keep trying.”
- One reason Meta built the Pro was to learn about new tech, and then bring some of that to cheaper consumer devices.
- Bosworth told me that there are limits to improving the visual fidelity of the cheaper Quest model. Instead, he suggested that Meta could make eye and face tracking more broadly available if those features are seeing success on the Quest Pro.
- That tracks with Meta’s embrace of the metaverse, which in the company’s vision includes ever-more-realistic avatars able to convey complex social cues.
Will people actually want this? Even if you do believe in the metaverse, there’s no guarantee that this level of lifelike fidelity is high on people’s wish list. It’s entirely possible many would prefer better-looking games over avatars that are able to wink and frown, and Meta’s relentless focus on social hardware could make the company vulnerable to competition.
— Janko Roettgers
A MESSAGE FROM QUALCOMM
Every great tech product that you rely on each day, from the smartphone in your pocket to your music streaming service and navigational system in the car, shares one important thing: part of its innovative design is protected by intellectual property (IP) laws.
Roku’s smart home hardware is here
Roku has teamed up with Wyze Labs to sell its own line of smart home products. Roku’s new devices include a floodlight camera, indoor and outdoor cameras, a video doorbell, smart bulbs, smart light strips, and indoor and outdoor smart plugs. The company’s smart home products will be available at Walmart stores starting next week, as well as on Roku’s and Walmart’s websites.
Roku’s expansion into the smart home doesn’t come as much of a surprise. I reported a year ago that the company was looking to expand into the IoT space through partnerships as well as by developing its own devices.
- Roku’s competitors have long embraced the smart home, with Amazon, Google, and Samsung all offering ways to connect cameras and other gadgets to TVs.
- Building its own devices allows Roku to stay competitive, and the partnership with Wyze brings together two companies that have long focused on extremely affordable hardware.
- However, that also comes with some risks: Wyze doesn’t have the best reputation among smart home enthusiasts, and selling a limited number of rebranded devices isn’t the same as adopting widely supported standards.
Here’s what I’m curious about: How do the two companies divvy up services revenues behind the scenes, and what other types of payments are involved in this partnership? Roku did disclose a $60 million investment provided “to a counterparty with which the company has a commercial relationship” in a recent regulatory filing.
Could that be Wyze? Is Roku testing the waters before buying the smart home device maker outright? A Roku spokesperson declined to comment, but maybe we’ll learn more when Roku reports earnings in about two weeks.
— Janko Roettgers
In other news
Apple TV+ may get ads. Apple execs have had discussions with media agencies about monetizing Apple TV+ content with advertising.
Microsoft and Sony’s regulatory feud gets nasty. The U.K.’s CMA regulator body published a 76-page document on Wednesday outlining why it felt the Activision Blizzard deal required a phase 2 review. Microsoft shot back by saying the regulator was parroting Sony arguments.
Affluent consumers are “buying out” of ads. Targeting consumers with disposable income is getting a lot harder when that disposable income is being spent on ad-free streaming tiers.
Blizzard offers Overwatch 2 players an apology — and free stuff. To make up for its bumpy launch that left some players unable to log in for days, Blizzard is doling out some free in-game items and promises more improvements down the line.
Netflix starts sharing more viewing metrics in the U.K. The streamer has teamed up with local TV measurement organization BARB; initial numbers show that it accounts for 8% of all TV viewing in the country.
Twitch says Amazon won’t foot all of its bills. In an interview with The Washington Post, the company’s monetization chief, Mike Minton, defended a controversial new 50-50 revenue split by saying Amazon expects the platform to be a “sustainable, viable long-term business.”
An in-depth look at the BBC’s digital archiving efforts. A fascinating story about the team that helps the BBC digitize and distribute old gems.
Inside Meta’s Reality Labs. Meta showed some reporters its EMG wristbands and other research efforts being cooked up inside its Redmond Reality Labs offices.
Visiting the Wooorld in VR
When Meta invited me alongside a handful of other journalists to its Bay Area Reality Labs offices last week to preview the Quest Pro, one of the apps I got to try was Wooorld, which lets you explore the world in VR. The Quest Pro version added some mixed-reality features, but you should definitely give it a try when it becomes available for the Quest 2 next week as well, because it’s a ton of fun.
The app combines Google Earth-like 3D mapping data with Street View photos, making it possible to pick a city, have it mapped out in front of you, then drop a pin, and immediately find yourself immersed in a 360-degree view of the place you selected. Taking selfies with your avatar in front of famous buildings is already pretty entertaining, but the real fun starts when you play Wooorld’s treasure hunt game: The app throws you into a random street in Europe or the U.S., and you have to figure out where you are simply by wandering from building to building in search for clues. It’s surprisingly hard and extremely enjoyable.
— Janko Roettgers
A MESSAGE FROM QUALCOMM
If we want our nation’s rich history of innovation to continue, experts say, we must create an IP protection ecosystem that helps ensure that tech innovation will thrive.
Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Enjoy your day, see you tomorrow.