Quest 3: Meta should avoid a common mistake from the past
The next Meta Quest is scheduled for release in 2023, with many more devices to follow. Meta has to break with an already unloved tradition to maintain its ecosystem.
If insider reports are to be believed, we can expect a veritable flood of headsets from Meta in the next two years. When it comes to virtual reality, Meta could launch four new devices, The Information reported at the beginning of May.
- Project Cambria in September 2022 (codename: Arcata)
- a new Meta Quest in 2023 (codename: Stinson)
- a new Project Cambria in 2024 (codename: Funston)
- a new Meta Quest in 2024 (codename: Cardiff)
In the augmented reality space, Meta is planning two more devices, as The Verge reported in early April.
- more basic display glasses in 2023 (codename: Hypernova)
- an AR headset in 2024, but only for developers (Project Nazare)
The Information also revealed that a new Ray-Ban Stories is planned for 2023.
That's seven (!) new headsets by the end of 2024. Of course, these product launches aren't set in stone. Companies change their plans. But it's worth noting how ambitious and packed Meta's hardware roadmap is. If all goes according to plan, Meta's shelves will be filled with a much wider range of hardware in three years.
Meta's short attention span when it comes to VR headsets
Meta hasn't exactly covered itself with glory in the past when it comes to VR product strategy. I am referring to Meta's tradition of launching VR headsets and then discontinuing them or replacing them with more powerful versions a short time later.
The list of offenses is long:
- In 2018, Facebook launches Oculus Go and takes it off the market two years later, subsequently abandoning the device class.
- In 2019, Facebook releases the Oculus Rift S. A year later, it discontinues the Rift product line.
- Also in 2019, Facebook releases the Oculus Quest, which is already replaced by the much more powerful and even cheaper Meta Quest 2 the following year. From 2021 onwards, more and more major titles and features appear exclusively for Meta Quest 2, leaving buyers of the first Meta Quest out in the cold.
- In 2021, Meta replaces the 64-gigabyte version of the Meta Quest 2 with a new, equally expensive 128-gigabyte base model. 64 gigabytes are extremely tight, especially when downloading more extensive games or videos.
Facebook's former company motto "Move fast and break things," you might think, still applies to its VR products.
VR technology is still in its infancy and developing at a rapid pace. But this product strategy must have a discouraging effect on consumers. I bought Meta Quest a year after it came out, just a few days before Meta Quest 2 was announced. That's annoying.
From Quest 2 to Quest 3: A smooth transition?
Given this product history, one can look forward to the coming Meta Quest flood with concern. I sincerely hope that Meta has learned from the past.
The company needs to be extra careful when transitioning to the next Quest. Meta has millions of Quest 2 devices in circulation and cannot afford to upset the existing customer base by declaring the VR headset obsolete again next year.
The majority of Quest 2 users are new to the Meta ecosystem, as the company has repeatedly pointed out. It is unlikely that these newcomers will want to upgrade again in 2023.
Details of Meta's product strategy are not known. It is only reported that Meta plans to launch two new versions of the Quest product line in 2023 and 2024, with one of the variants likely to be a Lite or Pro version. Anything else would make little sense.
The Meta Quest 3 is expected to be slightly more powerful than the Meta Quest 2, bringing slight improvements in looks and form factor, as well as new hardware features like eye and face tracking. On the whole, though, it shouldn't be a huge technical leap (depending on how eye-tracking is used). Thus, the generation change could go smoothly.
If Meta Quest were to be launched in the fall of 2023, there would be three years between Meta Quest and Meta Quest 2, twice as much as between Quest 1 and 2. The important thing is that Meta Quest 2 will continue to be carried by Meta for at least a while and will not be discontinued immediately.
Alternative consumption models: trade-in or rent
A long-term strategy to sustain the VR ecosystem would be a trade-in program or a hardware subscription model. In the first case, buyers could trade in their old headset for new hardware and receive a generous discount on the new device.
In the second case, instead of buying the headset, they would rent it on a monthly basis and have the latest hardware shipped to their home. This would also remove the hurdle of simply trying out virtual reality without spending a lot of money on hardware that would quickly become obsolete again.
Apple is reportedly considering such a subscription model for iPhones, which could also benefit the upcoming headset.
The VR industry is still far from the point where it is worthwhile for manufacturers to launch a new model every year. The devices still have to become more versatile and grow beyond their status as gaming consoles.