The future is the metaverse. That was promised a year ago by Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, a company he renamed Meta to underline the depth of his commitment. This Wednesday, the young tycoon wanted to present the progress made by his team during this time at a large corporate event. He had to demonstrate that the immersive virtual environment supported by virtual reality in which he works has eyes and a face, that it is more than just entertainment.
The star announcement was the Meta Quest Pro, a much more advanced (and expensive) viewer than the one that had been on sale until now, the Quest 2. It is the device with which he wants to convince the world that his idea is a good one. And it says many things about the direction Meta is taking.
1. Virtual reality, but mixed with physical reality
The launch confirms what was already rumored in the sector: in this phase of the project, the entry route to the metaverse will be mixed reality, that is, the superimposition of digital elements on physical reality. Makes sense. For those who have not grown up with video games, it can be aggressive to immerse yourself first in a 100% fictional environment, no matter how seductive and realistic it may be. It’s nicer to put on some glasses and still see the room you’re in, but sprinkled with some virtual reality elements, like a drop-down screen suspended in the air or the avatar of a colleague. In this way, the connection with the physical world is not lost: you can take something from the desk, look out the window and then focus on the multitasking screens that are projected in front of you.
With the Quest 2, of which about 15 million units have been sold, you could only navigate through 100% virtual worlds. For example, Horizon Worlds, where the user walks his avatar through all kinds of scenarios and interacts with others (it becomes the social network of Meta in the metaverse). But its appearance is still simple, far from the graphic perfection that Zuckerberg pursues. The technology needed to deploy the metaverse that the Californian thinks of is not yet ready. And it will take years to be. Until then, better mix the digital world with the physical.
2. Not suitable for all pockets
The second element that jumps out has to do with rent. The new Meta viewer costs 1,800 euros ($1,500 in the US), compared to 400 for its predecessor. The jump is large, and is a wake-up call: the metaverse is, for now, a luxury product. “The target audience of the Meta Quest Pro is, as its name indicates, the pros: large multinationals and qualified professionals. Several Fortune 500 companies and their European equivalents have already shown interest in them,” Mark Rabkin, vice president of Reality Labs, the Meta company that has made the glasses, said Thursday in a virtual meeting with journalists from around the world at the which EL PAÍS participated.
The exclusivity of the new glasses invalidates them a priori as a mass product. Unless they show that they give access to something we didn’t have before and convince us that we need them. “If we could have put them up for sale for less money, we would have,” Rabkin said. “We are going to see a lot of competition in the market. The only thing we were looking for when we designed them was if it really made the experience of virtual reality different, and the answer is yes. Once you put them on, you see how different it is from other viewers, the sharpness of the image, the absence of dizziness when you take them off… Then you understand the price”, he added.
Meta’s jump to manufacturing high-end viewers can also be interpreted as a preventive move in the face of another rumor circulating in the industry: Apple is preparing its landing in the sector with its own mixed reality glasses. BiteDance, the Chinese technology company behind TikTok, already has virtual reality headsets on the market and will battle it out in this technology race.
3. Better work than play
From the outset, Zuckerberg spoke of the metaverse as the place where in the not-too-distant future we would entertain, shop, socialize, or work. The bet will focus, at first, on that last layer. The first preachers of the metaverse will have to come from there, those who begin to convey to the population that the idea is a good one, that it is worth spending hours there. “For virtual reality to reach its proper potential, we need to get to the point where the 200 million people who buy computers for work each year can do at least some of their tasks even better in the metaverse,” Zuckerberg said Wednesday.
Focusing on the home workplace with its commitment to mixed reality. Also with the increase in the price of glasses. Curiously, the first big technology company to pick up the gauntlet of Zuckerberg’s total commitment to the metaverse was Microsoft. Just days after Facebook’s name change to Meta, Microsoft announced the introduction of custom avatars in its Teams tool. Another of the star announcements on Wednesday was the collaboration between both companies so that Teams or Microsoft 365 can be used from the Quest Pro. Zuckerberg has managed to enlist the best placed to lead the work metaverse to his cause.
4. The legs have arrived
One of the great criticisms that Meta’s metaverse proposal received was that the avatars, the digital representation of the users, left something to be desired. The dolls have a childlike appearance and are cut at the waist. That has changed: the avatars have improved in definition and now have legs. Although that also produces mockery now.
Meta’s situation is not the best possible. In July, the company posted its first annual revenue drop: $28.022 million, almost $1 billion less than the same period a year earlier. Zuckerberg warned that hiring will be frozen and there will be restructuring, something unheard of since Facebook started in 2004. Facebook is no longer gaining users and TikTok and Snapchat are on the rise. If you can make your metaverse the next great communications platform, all of that won’t matter.
5. Time will tell
When Apple ushered in the tablet market with its first iPad in 2010, some analysts didn’t see the point of the device. Why use a big mobile to surf the internet when you have a laptop with a mouse? Today, tablets coexist with personal computers, which are gradually gaining ground.
This is the moment when reviewers must decide whether the Quest Pro riflescopes (and their competitors) will also remain an eccentricity, or if, on the contrary, they will become a must-have accessory in homes and offices. In the event that they succeed, there is already a sector directly affected: screen manufacturers.
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Meta Quest Pro: Mark Zuckerberg’s metaverse was only for the rich