Are VR and AR entering the post-Meta era?
Apple, Pico, Sony - in the coming weeks and months, many other companies besides Meta will launch XR devices. Are VR and AR entering the post-Meta era? Or will Meta continue to dominate the market?
Recently, I wrote about one of Mark Zuckerberg's first VR experiences in 2014. A few weeks later, Facebook acquired VR startup Oculus and got the virtual reality hype rolling.
The dream of quick mainstream success for VR headsets has not come true. But Zuckerberg still believes that VR and AR are an essential part of the future technology landscape. In the fall, he renamed his company Meta and radically refocused it. The result is a new hype around VR and AR, only under a new name: the Metaverse.
But even this renewed hype will not lead to quick sales, especially since Zuckerberg is looking far, critics say too far, into the future. The Metaverse in render videos is more science fiction vision than reality, more placeholder and unknown than a clearly defined concept. There are numerous metaverse definitions - but that's where the strength of this concept lies.
A new chapter for virtual reality
The VR market and its development have never been more interesting. Meta Quest 2 has given a taste of the mainstream lately. If the technology has been stagnant lately, it will soon make leaps again: Project Cambria, Playstation VR 2, and Apple's headset, when it finally appears, will set new standards in VR technology in 2023 and hopefully get even more people excited about VR and AR.
Is the technology finally out of the woods, out of the niche, has it found its place in the mainstream? I don't think so. VR headsets existed before 2016 and will continue to exist in the future in areas such as 3D design, architecture, gaming and training - no matter what happens.
But this niche market is not what Zuckerberg is targeting. Virtual and augmented reality are meant to become technologies with broad cultural implications that play a role in people's everyday lives. They should be more than just one tool among many.
Only Meta and Sony show staying power so far
It's hard to imagine how the industry would have developed without Meta's traction and willingness to invest. What would happen if Zuckerberg turned his back on VR and AR?
Will we really soon be living in a post-Meta era, where the industry continues to grow even without Meta's important investment, as analyst Ming-Chi Kuo recently claimed? I'm skeptical.
There aren't many rich companies that believe in VR and have the staying power and willingness to invest in the technology without it yielding big profits in a timely manner. There's Meta, Sony, and the opportunists and copycats who invest in VR primarily for three reasons: because they expect quick revenues, because they're afraid Zuckerberg will end up being right, or because they're simply doing what Meta is doing.
The enthusiasm has a purpose
The latter is easy to understand. Meta has great power, both economically and because almost three billion people use its social networks.
Zuckerberg's influence is so great that he is changing and shaping the reality of many people simply by putting out a new corporate goal. In this case, something that doesn't even exist yet: the Metaverse. The rampant and sometimes bizarre Metaverse hype proves that.
Zuckerberg can't create the Metaverse out of thin air, but he can make sure that all sorts of things are moving outside his company to help make it happen. Whether the enthusiasm for VR and AR is faked or not, we don't know. I think Zuckerberg is sincere on this point.
But his enthusiasm alone sends a message: It's an assurance that Meta is ready to lay the foundation for a VR and AR ecosystem. Without that, it would be difficult to attract developers and thus apps worth buying the hardware for in the first place.
Beyond Meta with Meta
Sony could also succeed, but what about Valve, Google or Apple? Can they attract studios that want to spend time and money developing content for the ecosystems in question? Valve hasn't lifted a finger since 2020, Google is famous for abandoning projects early, and Apple has yet to lay out its product strategy.
I don't think virtual reality has established itself as a mainstream technology or that a healthy market exists. It will take more than an ecosystem and a company that dominates 90 percent of the market, as Meta currently does. And yet loses a lot of money in the process.
The VR industry needs Zuckerberg's enthusiasm, at least until the industry stands on its own two feet. I hope that there will finally be more competition in the market next year.
Note: This commentary first appeared on July 10, 2022, under the headline "VR industry needs Meta's enthusiasm." We have republished it because the topic is more relevant than ever in view of the coming weeks.
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