It’s not really a secret that Apple is working on some form of virtual reality (VR) device–mostly likely a pair of glasses or goggles. Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman recently reported that a product could arrive toward the end of 2022, or sometime early in 2023.
Exactly what Apple will introduce is hard to say at this point. Some analysts point to a VR headset similar to the Oculus Quest, which is made by Facebook, now known as Meta.
The Quest is by far the most popular VR device you can buy, but it’s still a relatively niche product. For Facebook, however, it’s an important piece of a strategy laid out by its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, who believes that there will soon be a day when we’ll all have a VR headset strapped to our face most of the time.
There’s no question that the two companies have very different ideas of why people might want to buy a VR headset. Apple isn’t likely to be motivated to make any product that would play into Facebook’s strategy. Gurman previously reported that even the word metaverse was verboten at Apple.
In fact, Apple is eventually expected to launch a set of augmented reality (AR) glasses that allow for a full view of the physical world around you, while adding in a sort of digital overlay to provide information. That’s probably still a few years away, with the first version focused on things like gaming, fitness, and shared experiences like FaceTime or SharePlay.
I’m not entirely sure the details matter at this point. Far more interesting to me is the idea that once Apple enters the game, it could be the end of Facebook–or at least its metaverse ambitions.
That’s because Apple has three things that put it in a unique position to not only compete with Facebook but also to pose an existential threat to its plan to dominate the metaverse:
I’ve written before that the biggest problem facing Facebook’s vision of the metaverse is that it’s just not very good at building the things it will need to make it happen. Apple, on the other hand, is very good at building software and hardware.
It’s also usually pretty good about not releasing something until it feels like it can do something that isn’t already being done–or when it thinks it can do it significantly better. Part of that is Apple’s ability to sense the way people will want to use technology and build that into its products.
Any headset from Apple is also likely to be more expensive than the Oculus Quest, by far the most popular VR device you can buy today. I’m not sure that will be a problem. The iPhone is a premium product in a category that has basically become a commodity.
Facebook, the app, has a huge platform. So do Instagram and WhatsApp. Meta, the company that owns those three apps, is banking on the idea that it has a huge audience of users whom it can move from devices where it has to play other companies’ rules to a platform it controls.
Do you know who else has a massive audience of users? Apple. There are some 1.5 billion iOS devices (iPhones and iPads) in use today. That may be only half the three billion active users on Facebook’s platform, but in terms of the scale needed to push adoption, I suspect Apple will be just fine.
The other piece of the platform is the fact that Apple already has software that makes sense for a VR platform. While Facebook has been busy trying to buy up any VR software company with a pulse, Apple already has Apple Arcade and Fitness+. While neither of those is exactly a major hit on its own, they certainly are a decent start.
Finally, and most important, there’s a huge trust gap between the two companies. The reality is, people just don’t trust Facebook. In a recent survey by The Verge, 56 percent of people said they don’t trust Facebook with their personal information. Only 36 percent thought the company has an overall positive impact on society. For Apple, that number is 61 percent.
That’s a big gap, and it could be the difference in whether people are willing to get on board Facebook’s vision of a more immersive internet where you spend most of your time wearing a Facebook headset, using Facebook software, on a platform controlled by, well, Facebook. I’ve said many times that trust is any brand’s most valuable asset and it’s an area Facebook is severely lacking.
All of this matters because Apple, it turns out, doesn’t need an AR/VR headset to survive. Facebook, on the other hand, has bet everything on the idea that people will wear headsets all day for everything from entertainment, to work, to school, to communicating with the people we love.
Maybe AR headsets will someday replace the iPhone. If that’s the case, Apple’s plan is to be the one selling it to you. If it’s successful, it doesn’t seem likely that there will be room for Facebook’s version at all.