Why Meta Wants to Be the ‘Microsoft of VR’

Facebook aka Meta is so desperate to own a computing platform that it is licensing its VR headset software to computer makers—and it’s an utterly genius move.

Meta has already licensed its Horizon OS to Asus and Lenovo, and it is also emphasizing alternate app stores on its platform. It’s also working on tools that will let game makers port their apps and will include Meta’s weird metaverse that steadfastly continues to interest zero people. These deals are in their early stages, and the details of the licensing agreement are still under wraps, but the details we do have point towards, as the Verge’s Alex Heath put it, Meta wanting to become “the Microsoft of headsets.”

“An open approach to Horizon OS allows the company [to] pour its focus and resources into shaping a VR ecosystem so attractive that it quickly builds up a user base that cannot later be replicated by a second mover, [and] to rapidly reduce dependence on Apple and Google, who control access to mobile users and can, and sometimes have, subjected the company to their own rules,” Varun Garde, a Director of Cloud Marketing – Monetization and Business Planning at Microsoft, told Lifewire via email.

Fatal Attraction

Mark Zuckerberg is desperate for Meta to own a computing platform. How else do you explain the billions of dollars wasted on building VR and the metaverse, the 3D world that Meta thought was so important that it changed the company name to match?

For years, Facebook was web-based and could do pretty much whatever it wanted with its users, strip-mining them for data used to sell its targeted ads. But then mobile happened, and people moved to apps, which are controlled by Apple and Google. Even worse for Facebook and parent company Meta, Apple also locked down the browser, making tracking users even harder, and also warned users when apps wanted to track them.

A person in the desert wearing VR goggles with stubby antennae
 Probably they’re enjoying a cosy virtual office cubicle.  Jezael Melgoza / Unsplash

The answer for Meta is obvious—to own its own platform. The smartphone market is all sewn up, with pretty much all phones running either iOS or Android, but the VR/AR space is still wide open. This alone explains Meta going all-in on trying to kick-start it as a social platform.

If it can succeed, then AR brings a lot more than just tracking what websites you visit. A headset can also see the world around you, through its cameras, and can see exactly what you’re looking at, thanks to eye-tracking. Tell me that’s not a big fat juicy target for Meta.

Open and Closed

By licensing its headset operating system, Meta hopes to own the VR space in the same way that Windows and Android own the desktop and mobile spaces. Why try to compete with Apple by designing integrated hardware and software when you can just do the part you’re good at, and leave the gadgets to everyone else?

Rayban meta sunglesses on a white background
 Meta has already partnered with Ray-Ban to make its creepy glasses. Meta / Rayban

It’s a particularly smart move because right now, there’s no clear way for companies like Lenovo or Asus to get into VR and AR. With the desktop it’s obvious. You just use Windows, and likewise with Android for mobile.

“For headset manufacturers, they can focus on what they know best—hardware—which could in theory allow for great cost savings to be had by utilizing an established and proven platform. They also wouldn’t have to invest in building a store of exciting apps and convincing developers to build for their platforms,” Maeva Sponbergs, CMO and head of publishing at Beyond Frames Entertainment told Lifewire via email.

Lenovo, which co-designed the Oculus Rift S, will probably end up making business-focused mixed-reality headsets, and according to Meta’s announcement, Asus is working on an “all-new performance gaming headset.” And Meta is partnering with Microsoft to make a limited-edition Meta Quest, inspired by the Xbox.

The pull for buyers is clear. With more manufacturers in the game, there will be more choice and cheaper options.

“The more devices on the market, the more competition, which is exciting for consumers, developers, and content creators since that will likely mean faster advancements in hardware,” Annie Eaton, XR expert, CEO of Futurus, and author of AR/VR book The Extended Reality Blueprint, told Lifewire via email.

The problem is that the entire experience will be owned and operated by Meta, and you know exactly what they want from you.

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