In a recent quarterly investor brief, Meta boss Mark Zuckerberg stated that the company’s next virtual reality headset should in the future replace the conventional work environment.
The company has been celebrating the massive success of its Meta Quest headset but the company is not sitting on its laurels. To justify the massive investments in immersive technologies, reportedly more than $10 billion per year, Zuckerberg wants his company’s XR technologies to permeate our future everyday lives, including our work lives.
The workplace is the core testing ground of VR and AR technologies. If XR technologies are going to be an entrenched and indispensable part of our lives, then they have to prove their utility in the workplace and become something as consequential as a new computing platform, the so-called iPhone moment.
Should the metaverse moment happen, AR and VR headsets will, in the future, replace the conventional machines and environments in the workplace and become the new unified workplace where a someone will only need to ‘report’ with a virtual reality or mixed reality headset and where there will be no need for personal computers or smartphones. Such a metaverse future could free Meta from its current reliance on the hardware and software ecosystems monopolized by Google and Apple thereby taking Meta to the forefront in technological dominance.
Working in Virtual Reality: Developments Shift from the Software to Hardware Front
There are already a number of killer remote working and teleconferencing apps, including virtual reality apps. In the past few years, Meta has provided a software ecosystem in Quest and Rift where users can experiment with these apps. The chief scientist at Meta’s Reality Labs Michael Abrash has repeatedly talked of a virtual office as Meta’s aim ultimate aim in XR development. Meta has already taken the first steps towards the realization of this dream through the Infinite Office and Meta Quest 2 has been incorporating features that are geared at facilitating productivity in the virtual reality workplace.
Meta’s next big phase is in hardware and a lot of this is pegged on its upcoming Project Cambria. These upcoming headsets are packed with lots of high-end features and technologies and target both professionals and VR enthusiasts. The Cambria headset will be aggressively marketed as a general-purpose virtual reality headset and will be more expensive than the Quest 2 headset.
Cambria Could Be Meta’s VR Headset for the Workplace
At the most recent Meta investor brief, Zuckerberg stated that the Cambria headset will be more focused on work applications and could eventually replace the laptop or the conventional work environment. To this end, he emphasized that the headset had improved ergonomics as well as a new Passthrough mode, and these features are intended to seamlessly merge the virtual and physical worlds. It’s notable that Zuckerberg emphasized the potential workplace applications of the Cambria headset this time more than ever before. Following the announcement of the headset late last year, Meta hasn’t commented much on its core use-cases. During its unveiling, the company had focused on its technical features and these were showcased in the context of the more familiar usage scenarios such as fitness and social interactions.
Video leaks from last year along with rumors of a new interface suggest that Meta is seriously pursuing the workplace application angle with its Cambria headset. In the future, the headset will be intended to compete with the more conventional devices such as laptops.
It will be some time before the device is fully presented with all its features. This year’s F8 conference, during which it was expected that Meta would present the device, was canceled so the company could focus on its metaverse projects. Zuckerberg has stated that the company will only reveal fresh details on its Project Cambria headset in the coming months. It is likely that the launch is likely to happen at the Connect 2022 or, perhaps, shortly thereafter.
The Loss-Making XR
During the presentation of its quarterly figures a few days ago, Meta reported that the company had made huge losses in its XR investments. In the last quarter alone, over $3 billion flowed into its Reality Labs division but the division had a turnover of $700 million.
Zuckerberg promised that Meta would be slowing down the pace of its XR investments given the current business growth. It is also likely that the macroeconomic or business uncertainty may lead to a shift in Meta’s long-term Metaverse strategy in favor of the pursuit of short-term financial goals. At the investor briefing, Zuckerberg sought to manage expectations and made it clear that the current massive investments in VR and AR should only pay off in the 2030s.
The subtle concession on the difficulties in the XR front is perhaps due to the fact that Meta’s metaverse pivot has been buttressed by its super-performing Meta Quest 2 headset which, if some sources are to be believed, had sold more than 10 million units by late last year. While Zuckerberg may be slowing down on investments in an XR future, he definitely staying on course. Still, the Meta Quest 2 headset occupies only a small niche in the device ecosystem which is still dominated by smartphones and computers. Even the online gaming market is still dominated by the likes of Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo. But Meta’s metaverse ambitions transcend the gaming market and that market has only been a starting point as it builds its user ecosystem. Meta is betting that its next big XR project, the Cambria, will have a bigger mainstream potential and rope in tens of millions more users into virtual reality. Zuckerberg has said that the Project Cambria will at least offer users a foretaste of how XR could eventually replace computing as we have known it for the last three decades.
- May 4, 2022