Meta mocks Apple as the headset wars heat up

Meta mocks Apple as the headset wars heat up

At Meta Connect, Meta mocked Apple without calling names. But in reality, the companies are working toward the same goal.

For more than seven years, Apple has been working secretly on spatial computers. In June, the fruits of that labor were finally unveiled to the public: the Apple Vision Pro.

One of Apple's most controversial design decisions was to have an external battery for the device to reduce form factor and weight. The downside is that users have to plug the headset into the wall or carry a wired battery in their pocket. This is an atypical Apple design choice that Meta now happily exploits.

Meta's Quest headsets have always had all the required electronics built in. Something that CEO Mark Zuckerberg and CTO Andrew Bosworth pointed out at last week's unveiling of the Meta Quest 3, saying that the device is completely standalone and requires no wires or external battery pack (see a video summary from Reddit below). A clear dig at Apple.

Different strategies, same goal

The two companies are targeting the same device category, but with very different strategies.

Meta wants to get headsets into the hands of as many people as possible and aims for the best value proposition, while Apple aims for a premium user experience and charges prices that are out of reach for most people. The Meta Quest 3 starts at $500, while the Vision Pro starts $3,500.

But Vision Pro will be a more powerful general purpose device. Meta Quest 3 is first and foremost a VR gaming console, while Vision Pro is a standalone computer with an M2 processor, integrated into Apple's existing ecosystem. This is where the products diverge. On the other hand, the Vision Pro won't be as good for VR games because it doesn't support controllers.

There are also significant differences in marketing: Meta promotes virtual reality as a physically active medium, while the people in Apple's promotional material are mostly sitting motionless in sterile rooms, making micro gestures with their hands. A very different, more sober and perhaps less exciting vision of the medium.


Apple's road will be rocky

Zuckerberg and Bosworth don't seem very impressed with Apple Vision Pro, or at least they pretend not to be.

In an interview with The Verge, Zuckerberg said that Apple hadn't come up with any completely new insights or breakthroughs that would make Meta's efforts pointless or require them to start over again. However, he also said he doesn't want to be dismissive because "Apple is obviously very good at this". Bosworth, on the other hand, said that Meta could build a Vision Pro, but doesn't want to.

If I were asked which strategy I find more convincing and promising at the moment, I would point in Meta's direction. I'm not convinced that the Apple Vision Pro could replace a Macbook for many consumers today, at least not in this form factor and price. Maybe in a second or third generation of the device. The technology just isn't there yet.

Meta Quest, on the other hand, is reaching millions of people today and bringing developers into the ecosystem who can make a living building VR apps. That's critical to the development of the technology. In the end, both approaches are needed: affordable headsets and headsets that push the boundaries of what is possible, at a high price if necessary.

Do spatial computers have to become something everyone wants before they become something everyone can afford, as Oculus founder Palmer Luckey suggested? We'll see. It's possible that Meta's and Apple's headsets will one day meet somewhere in the middle. The companies are both competitors and allies, working toward the same goal: creating a future for spatial computing.