Meta has a problem. Well, let’s be realistic, Meta has many problems. This problem is that Apple is coming to market with a mixed reality headset early next year. That means the company needs to have a headset in the market around the time that product launches.
Launching before Apple is the best way of countering whatever Apple comes to market with, and that product needs to be premium in appearance, specs, and capabilities to compete with Apple’s anticipated premium product. So, Meta has been looking for a way to position this premium product in a way that allows it to come to market early with a premium product even though the actual market size is still small. It would be criticized heavily for releasing a premium product already seen as a niche within a market that many already see as a niche.
Enter Meta’s enterprise story, which I believe before today was weak and didn’t have much credibility considering that Meta Quest for Business is still a beta program since the company shuttered Oculus for Business last year. All of this is to say that I don’t think very many people fully buy into Meta’s productivity story and that it is how the company is looking to justify the more-than-5x price increase over the Oculus Quest 2. So, let’s dig deeper into the headset, the platform, and the vision behind the Meta Quest Pro.
The Meta Quest Pro is undoubtedly a premium headset, whether you call it a VR headset, MR headset, or an XR headset to cover all your bases. The Quest Pro, according to Meta’s website, features the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2+ Gen1 which delivers 50% more performance along with a standard 256GB of storage and 12GB of RAM as well as 10 ‘advanced VR/MR’ sensors for tracking a user’s environment, face, hands and eyes. The headset also features a new optics stack, including pancake optics, which reduce the optical volume by 40% compared to the Quest 2. The display attached to this optical stack also features a 37% greater pixel density, a 30% improved color gamut, and 75% more contrast, which is crucial for easily reading text in a virtual environment. It also features two new controllers with independent tracking using three cameras per controller and a Snapdragon 662 mobile chip inside each controller. The new headset also features improved mixed reality capabilities with a 4x higher resolution pass-thru camera pipeline for more lifelike mixed reality experiences compared to the Quest 2. Meta also integrated a curved battery cell in the back of the headset to counterweight the components in the front for less next strain for prolonged use. This headset packs the latest in nearly every possible innovation available today to make for a premium headset experience and does it for $1,499, which I believe is around or below where many expect Apple’s headset will also land.
The software and ecosystem
Meta talked a lot about productivity in VR leading up to this announcement and showed some of the applications already being used today in some enterprises. These applications included ShapesXR for Logitech, Gravity Sketch for Puma and New Balance, Novartis using Nanome, and the ITC using Arthur for training and workshops. Many of these applications pre-date the Oculus Quest platform and have been popular VR apps on other platforms and ported to the Quest. The Quest Pro will mostly rely on Quest 2 applications for the foreseeable future, with the Quest Pro becoming the de facto mixed reality platform for Meta and its developers. Meta’s Presence Platform is at the core of Meta’s mixed reality development efforts. I believe it will be how the company uses mixed reality as an onramp for AR applications once AR headsets improve in capability and performance. The Quest Pro is ultimately a developer device for Meta, much like I expect Apple’s device will be, with both being expensive because of the breadth of capabilities they offer and the bleeding-edge nature of many of the technologies.
Meta’s app ecosystem is still primarily consumer
While I believe that people will be productive in XR environments, I think that people are still looking to be entertained in XR when it comes to companies like Meta and Apple. If you head over to the Quest Pro product page, its quite clear that Meta’s true enterprise partnerships are light. The company primarily relies on its deep Oculus Quest 2 app library to prop up this headset until developers can start building for it. Even then, I’m not entirely sure that most of those developers will be building enterprise applications. If you watched Meta’s presentation, there was a lot of talk about gaming and fitness applications, which are both very consumer-focused and, I believe, will be among two of Apple’s most important classes of applications that it will target with the new headset. Meta has been teasing productivity with the Quest 2 with things like its partnership with Logitech on keyboards and specialized controllers for VR. Still, I believe it was planting the seed for what it is messaging today with Quest Pro. That said, Meta’s announcement of a deep partnership with Microsoft does legitimize its enterprise approach, especially with the addition of apps like Teams, Office 365, Windows 365, and management software like Azure Active Directory along with Intune. Meta also leveraged the Accenture use of VR to connect its hundreds of thousands of employees with its own 60,000 headset deployment, which it announced last year.
Meta Quest for Business – still in beta?
Meta shut down the Oculus for Business program late last year after announcing the Quest for Business program, which is still in beta. The original Oculus Quest for Business program has been around since 2017 and struggled with many issues that made it unfriendly towards businesses, especially considering the requirement to have a Facebook account and managing those accounts for each headset and user. Meta also must overcome privacy concerns with enterprises considering the challenges it has had with consumers around Facebook. While Meta appears to have pivoted towards Meta accounts for its headsets, it remains unclear whether users will trust Meta accounts more than Facebook accounts. Oddly, Meta’s own Quest Pro page refers to Meta accounts using ‘gamertag’ in the requirement copy when describing what kind of things you’ll need for the Quest Pro. The old Oculus for Business program also had challenges with native device management and made it difficult to manage with 3rd party solutions, further compounded by firmware updates being unpredictable and controlled by Meta. Hopefully, with the addition of Microsoft’s Azure Active Directory and Intune, some of these challenges can be overcome in the new Meta Quest for Business program, but from what I’ve seen, businesses generally like to have a choice in MDM solutions and hopefully, Meta Quest for Business will allow those.
Positioning against Apple
Anyone that watched today’s keynote presentation noticed the obvious lines that Mark Zuckerberg drew between Meta and Apple. He made it quite clear that Meta sees itself as the ‘open’ alternative to Apple’s ‘closed’ ecosystem. While the definition of open continues to change, Meta does have its mostly public approach to XR and iteration over generations, along with feedback from the community and developers. Additionally, Meta has openly embraced open standards like OpenXR, which I believe will be critical to the long-term success of immersive computing as the next computing platform. I also believe that Meta is launching the Quest Pro in anticipation of what it expects Apple will launch and getting ahead of that to ensure that it has a foothold in the market before Apple launches its product that many of us expect to be similar in functionality. I don’t think that Apple will position its Reality headset as a productivity device even though I believe it will likely cost as much as or more than the Quest Pro. I believe that Apple’s headset will, like many other products, be positioned towards the premium consumer and developers, like the Quest Pro, without attempting to sell it as a productivity device. That said, I think productivity will be an aspect of what Apple offers purely because of how closely it is likely to integrate with Apple’s other devices like the iPhone and possibly even MacBook. Getting back to Meta’s Quest Pro, I believe that Apple sees Meta as its biggest competitor. Meta is unafraid to position itself as an alternative to Apple’s approach because it knows the company already has a target on its back. I also believe that Meta’s focus on fitness during Meta Connect was a clear indication that Meta is aware of Apple’s intentions to use fitness as a killer app for Mixed Reality, and I believe this may be the motivation for the FTC’s lawsuit challenging Meta’s acquisition of the parent company of the wildly successful fitness app Supernatural.
Mixed Reality and setting expectations
One of the most obvious applications that Meta talked about with the Quest Pro is using mixed reality to develop AR apps. This is the onramp to AR applications that will likely take years of development to bear fruit, but I believe is a crucial component to the industry’s approach to AR enablement. We’re seeing mixed reality headsets becoming the standard with the likes of the Lenovo VRX, Lynx R-1, and Meta’s Quest Pro. Mixed reality enables many productivity applications without compromising on performance or resolution, which would happen if a headset were to go full AR with see-through optics rather than passthrough-like mixed reality. Establishing the mixed reality onramp, paired with Mark’s setting realistic expectations for AR with the company developing two different paths, one focusing on experience and the other on form factor, each improving over time. He also talked about the challenges around AR user interfaces and how those developments are coming along but are still very much in the development process. This is all to say that Meta did a much better job setting realistic expectations for the market and, I believe, positioned Meta well against Apple.
In my eyes, the Meta Quest Pro is absolutely a prosumer device, with it still very much being a consumer device that can also be used for some low-hanging business applications. I think that while Meta’s partnership with Microsoft does lend some credibility to its business focus with the Quest Pro, the company’s history and overall consumer focus makes it hard to believe long term. I believe that the Meta Quest Pro is a fantastic-looking and designed headset with many of the right features and capabilities to move the industry forward, but not as a business device. It is a high-end mixed reality device that sits in a high-end tier of the company’s consumer offerings. I don’t see this device replacing laptops, which was Meta’s original messaging for ‘Cambria’ seems to have disappeared along with the codename. At $1,500, the Quest Pro is a relatively expensive device compared to the Quest 2, especially for many of Meta’s younger fans. Still, I see it as a hybrid prosumer and development device that the company doesn’t expect to ship remotely in the volumes it would sell a Quest 3, which many expect to come next year. The Quest Pro is an excellent showcase of what Meta can do today and a technological stake in the ground before Apple claims it invented mixed reality. I can’t wait to get my hands on it on October 25th when my pre-order arrives and see what kinds of mixed reality experiences it can deliver.