As we edge closer towards Web 3, it seems like every company wants a piece of the pie. After rebranding to Meta and laying out its plans to dominate the metaverse, Facebook has made significant waves within the last few months. Other Big Tech giants such as Microsoft, Samsung and Sony have also sunk their teeth into the metaverse space, with offerings such as collaborative software, better connectivity and more immersive user experiences.
The spotlight has also long since been on Apple, with many analysts and experts waiting for one of tech’s biggest trailblazers to introduce their own ‘mixed reality’ headset. However, recent reports have confirmed that Apple has no short-term plans to enter the metaverse with their much-awaited device, which is set to be announced later this year. Instead, the company is allegedly focusing only on providing access to gaming, communications and entertainment content for the time being.
With the metaverse being an inevitable prospect, will Apple eventually enter the market with a Web 3-compatible device? First, let’s take a look at what’s in store for both Apple and Meta’s next headset releases in 2022. We’ll then review what both Facebook and Apple are best at doing — and why we think that Apple won’t necessarily stay behind the curve.
Facebook’s first high-end headset under the Meta moniker is due for release sometime later in 2022 — though an exact timeframe has yet to be confirmed.
Dubbed ‘Project Cambria’, Meta’s latest device was initially referenced last year at the company’s virtual Connect conference. This headset has been promised to be the successor to the popular Oculus Quest 2, packed with immersive features that were previously unseen in previous headset releases.
Notable features include lifelike facial communication capabilities, the ability to track users’ facial expressions, reconstruction of mixed reality objects, a special avatar personalisation engine and other advancements that are in line with bringing CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s promise of an ‘embodied’ metaverse experience to life.
In terms of its design, several defining assets were also revealed in Meta’s Connect 2021 demo. Some of the most notable ones include:
- A more ergonomic design: In its current prototype form, Project Cambria will come in a sleek, all-black structure that is lighter, more compact and equipped with a much slimmer strap than its Oculus predecessors.
- Tracked controllers: Project Cambria is also expected to feature full-body tracking capabilities, giving users a better sense and level of control over their virtual surroundings.
- More advanced sensors and reconstruction algorithms: Project Cambria is also set to feature more superior sensors and reconstruction algorithms, with the ability to represent physical objects in the real world with impeccable perspective and depth. The sensors will also accommodate various different skin tones and facial features, making users’ experiences more immersive and lifelike.
According to Meta analyst Noelle Martin, the company: “aims to be able to simulate you down to every skin pore, every strand of hair, every micromovement […] the objective is to create 3D replicas of people, places and things, so hyper-realistic and tactile that they’re indistinguishable from what’s real.”
So far, Meta’s project appears to be off to a smooth start. Since its rebranding, the company’s share price has risen by about 5%. Meta’s plans involve hiring at least 10,000 new staff members to build out their metaverse space. And while this news hasn’t exactly been hailed across the board, Meta has even started poaching staff members from both Microsoft and Apple and recruting them to join their mission.
What do we know about Apple’s upcoming ‘mixed reality’ headset?
While multiple sources initially claimed that Apple’s upcoming headset would be set to launch in 2022, Bloomberg now suggests that we will more likely see the announcement of the new headset closer to the end of this year.
Some features that are projected to be featured in Apple’s first XR offering include:
- Turbo-fast processing: Apple’s headset release is expected to wield the same level of power as the M1 processor currently found in its latest MacBook Pro lineup, with a 96W USB-C power adapter at its helm. It’s also reported to feature a lower-end processor, which will power up any sensor-related computing.
- Tracking cameras: Apple’s headset will apparently feature two tracking cameras, with the ability to relay information to two 8K displays located in front of the user’s eyes.
- LiDAR sensors: These sensors have been cited as a possibility for Apple’s first headset — with lasers to measure distance, allowing for the fast and accurate gathering of a space’s area. This would allow for better placing of objects in AR.
Despite ample predictions that Apple would join the likes of Meta, Microsoft and other tech leaders in creating a metaverse-compatible device, it appears that they won’t be in the ranks just yet. According to Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman, known to be a reliable Apple analyst: “The idea of a completely virtual world where users can escape to — like they can in Meta Platforms/Facebook’s vision of the future — is off-limits from Apple.” Instead, he has said that the upcoming mixed-reality headset will allow users to perform shorter activity sessions — such as gaming, communications and entertainment consumption.
With Web 3 clearly on the horizon, Apple’s refusal to enter the metaverse space has prompted reactions of shock and disappointment from spectators. This news also places both Meta and Apple in very different areas of the playing field, with Apple’s upcoming vision feeling like a sharp contrast to that of Meta’s — a brand that has completely centralised its new positioning around creating a metaverse space in Web 3.
If we shift our focus back to Meta, we’re left with an important question — what kind of advantage do they have in this race? Has Facebook’s success and business model laid down the right foundation for Meta to rightfully take off?
What Facebook has done best: connecting people
From its earliest days, Facebook was created with one primary mission: to bring people closer together.
A then-sophomore at Harvard, a young Mark Zuckerberg launched The Facebook — a social media website built to forge better connections between Harvard students. This force of connectivity was then used to help students across different institutions connect with each other. Eventually, the Facebook universe would completely revolutionise how the rest of the world would connect, communicate and share personal information across a centralised database.
Now as Meta, the company’s goal is to enhance the user experience and make these virtual connections more immersive. According to Mark Zuckerberg: “the defining quality of the metaverse will be a feeling of presence — like you are right there with another person or in another place.” Moreover, he describes the objective of allowing users to feel truly present with one another as: “the ultimate dream of social technology.”
Today, it can be argued that Meta is the only Big Tech corporation with the scale and capital to create a metaverse space — with a user base of 3.5 billion people and a total of $86 billion in generated profits from within the last year. With an unparalleled number of users at its fingertips, Meta already houses the largest web of interconnected people in all of social media history.
However, will the expansiveness of Meta’s ecosystem continue to foster a safe and equitable space for users to freely connect and share information? Despite Facebook’s long history of controversies, Zuckerberg seems to have a pretty egalitarian version of the metaverse — promising a need for greater interoperability and lower fees for developers. But with the advent of virtual land on decentralised platforms such as Decentraland and Somnium Space, questions have now arisen about how Meta will govern its new internet medium, or about where communities may find ways to connect more freely in Web 3.
With this taken into account, it’s also easy to wonder: should Meta be forced to share the metaverse with these newer, blockchain-powered platforms, will the Project Cambria headset offer fair access? Or will this one day be offered by another, potentially more mainstream and user-friendly device?
What Apple has done best: innovation
Apple is often credited for revolutionising some of our most widely-used product innovations. Well-known examples include the iPod, the iPhone and, of course, the Apple Macintosh — one of the very first machines that helped make personal computing ubiquitous. To illustrate an example, let’s jump into a time machine and backtrack to the very early days of computing.
Steve Jobs, a then-aspiring tech mogul, paid a visit to Xerox’s PARC (Palo Alto Research Center) laboratory back in 1979. During this time, Xerox was the first company to have produced an operating system based on a graphical user interface (GUI) — a remarkable device called the Xerox Alto.
However, the Alto would never see a commercial release. With a price tag of $32,000 USD (the equivalent to $114,105 USD in today’s market), Xerox’s managers saw nothing but an overly complicated workstation that was far too expensive to mass-produce. Steve Jobs, on the other hand, saw much more than that. He was amazed by the GUI and believed that the Alto was the ideal blueprint for how all computers should operate.
Most analysts agree that the Xerox Alto was far ahead of its time. Before any other machine in computing history, it featured the same type of keyboard and mouse interface we still use today. It also, incredibly enough, featured now-universal concepts such as email, event reminders and word processing.
Wanting a piece of the innovation for himself, Jobs sold shares of Apple to Xerox in exchange for access to the Alto’s technology. Apple would then use their data to create a more refined, user-friendly and affordable home computing device.
The same logic can be applied to the creation of the iPhone. While Apple wasn’t the pioneer of the mobile smartphone, they were able to reinvent the handset concept and turn it into the closest thing we then had to a pocket-sized computer. To date, the iPhone’s build has served as a de facto blueprint for how future touch-screen devices would be constructed and integrated into our everyday lives.
Throughout the course of tech history, Apple has mastered the art of taking existing technology and making it better. And while Steve Jobs may no longer be at the forefront of Apple’s empire, their continued efforts (such as the M1 processor in today’s lightweight, industry-standard MacBooks, or the highly expansive App Store library) have proven that the tech giant hasn’t lost its innovation edge.
So, how does this all relate to our current technological paradigm, which is Web 3?
Well, it’s a prime example of what Apple does best: innovation. And while it might be too soon to tell, decades of Apple’s design-first trends suggest that we could very well see history repeat itself once the tech giant decides to create an innovative, metaverse-ready device. Like the iPhone or the Macintosh, it just might be the one that finds its way into the households of the masses.
So, what’s next?
With neither tech giant having released their dedicated XR headset yet, it’s still far too early to tell which path either will take. Recent reports have revealed that Meta plans to enter the NFT marketplace, though no evidence yet suggests that the company has any plans to embrace a more decentralised business model.
When we look back at the history of computing, however, one thing is clear: computers — or in this case, headsets — have never been the end goal. They’re not the thing, per se — they’re the thing that gets us to the next thing. And when it comes to getting closer to Web 3, the company that brings us towards the better, more ubiquitous user experience will win.
To keep learning more about Apple, Meta and other industry trends related to the metaverse and Web 3, stay tuned for more updates on gmw3.