Setback for Meta: Prestige project stopped - report
Meta wants to free itself from the stranglehold of Apple and Google with its own XR operating system. But the development faces problems.
Mark Zuckerberg's Metaverse vision is driven by the hope of breaking out of Apple's and Google's smartphone ecosystems - with its VR and AR hardware as well as customized services and apps.
"We want a stronger strategic position in the next generation of computing. We can only achieve that by building our own platform with key applications", Zuckerberg wrote in a strategic email in 2015. The sooner the era of the smartphone ends - and with it, Apple's and Google's dominance - and the next computing platform takes off, the better it will be for Facebook.
A key building block for that future is a proprietary operating system, similar to Android or iOS but optimized for virtual reality and augmented reality. Facebook has been talking about developing its own operating system since 2019, and in the summer of 2021 it said the work was "well advanced."
Four-year OS project scrapped?
That may have been a hasty judgment. According to a report by the tech portal The Information, the ambitious and important project has recently suffered a bitter setback.
Called XROS, the operating system had been in development since 2017 and employed more than 300 professionals, but was halted in November 2021, shortly after team leader Mark Lucovsky announced he was leaving Meta.
He resigned because of whistleblower Frances Haugen's revelations and the company's new Metaverse focus, the report said. Lucovsky moved to Google in December and is now developing an AR operating system there, likely for new AR glasses.
Meta contradicts the report
In a statement to The Verge, Meta denied that the development of a proprietary XR operating system has been halted or downgraded. Meta manager Gabriel Aul writes on Twitter that Meta is still investing in this work and provides the necessary resources.
There are several technical directions we're pursuing in our efforts to build @RealityLabs
operating systems, we're still working on a highly specialized OS for our devices - we remain very much invested in this work and continue to dedicate the resources necessary to build this
- Gabriel Aul (@GabeAul) January 5, 2022
Meta's difficulty in developing an XR operating system is to be expected. VR and AR technology is new and complex, and related interfaces such as voice control, hand tracking, and neural interfaces are just emerging. The same is true for Meta's first AR glasses, code-named "Nazare", which are still years away from a commercial release.
Android remains the operating system of choice
Another complication is that the new computing platforms will be dependent on the smartphone ecosystem for the foreseeable future. Meta has little room for development here and is tied to Apple's and Google's operating systems. Apple is still best positioned of all three companies because it has full control over hardware and software.
For the Quest product line, Meta uses an Android-based operating system developed in-house. According to the report, Meta wants to develop this further first, even though the XROS project could be revived at a later point.
Strategically, it makes sense to rely on the existing operating system. AR hardware still needs to mature and switching to an entirely new, unknown, and possibly buggy operating system could demotivate developers.