Forward-looking: Facebook idea of the future involves using AR glasses and machine learning to project a realistic digital avatar of yourself into virtual meetings with people of your choosing. This vision will require a lot of technological advancements to be made to current display and projection hardware, but Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is confident that AR can become mainstream in a decade, especially if it’s not done the way Apple would do it.
Earlier this week, analyst Ming-Chi Kuo revealed that Apple is not only ready to expand into the mixed/augmented reality space, but also planning to launch three waves of wearable AR products that will cover different use cases. With that kind of outlook on Apple’s vision for augmented reality, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is trying to present the social giant’s alternative view of how AR should be implemented and where it can have the most profound impact.
During an interview (paywalled) with The Information’s Alex Heath and Matthew Olson, Zuckerberg didn’t mention Apple by name, but made some remarks that were obviously targeted at Cupertino. For instance, he painted a picture where Apple is a company whose business model is to charge premium prices and create a sense of exclusivity, while describing Facebook as a company that’s more interested in serving everyone, a goal that is just as rewarding as it is difficult to achieve in the real world.
To that end, Facebook’s Oculus team has taken the task of creating a device that can do both AR and VR, while seeking the right compromises to bring the final price down to around $300 instead of $1,000, which is the rumored pricing for Apple’s mixed-reality device.
On the flip side, Zuckerberg says this will most likely be achieved by selling the device at a loss and recoup the costs through an app store. He also explained that the best way to achieve that is to own the operating system and attached app store to “create the kind of social experiences that we would like there to be,” another subtle jab at Apple’s rigid App Store rules.
Apple doesn’t believe VR will be more than a niche technology that will help enhance education and gaming experiences, whereas AR has the potential of becoming part of daily life for a majority of people, just like smartphones.
Facebook’s dream future is one where people will be able to use mixed reality tech to “teleport” to other locations for social interactions, both casual and for business purposes. That future is supposedly only 10 years away, and could lessen the environmental footprint of people who would normally need to travel a lot for business or pleasure.
Zuckerberg says that digital avatars will get more realistic over time as the company integrates eye and face tracking into AR glasses, and overlaying information on top of the real world will make communication and searching for information a lot more convenient.
The first version of those glasses will arrive this year without any AR overlay tech. Zuckerberg explains that’s because the display and projector hardware isn’t small enough to integrate into a normal pair of glasses just yet, so VR avatars are going to be the stepping stone in the development of future AR experiences. He also wants these avatars to reach the kind of quality levels possible through tools like Epic’s MetaHuman, but with image capture technology and machine learning that could generate them in a snap.
Otherwise, Zuckerberg confirmed that Oculus will remain committed to VR hardware and is already hard at work on “what Quest 3 and 4 are gonna look like.” He shared that Quest 2 has already outsold the first version in the few months it’s been out thanks to improved hardware and a $100 reduction in price.
Finally, when asked about Facebook’s acquisition of neural interface startup CTRL-Labs and what role its tech will play into making the company’s AR dream a reality, Zuckerberg noted the ultimate long-term goal is to build noninvasive tech for input that will be unlike what Neuralink is doing.