Social networks contain multitudes. One day you’re writing about internal dissent over the company’s ability to uproot influence campaigns and election interference; the very next, you’re watching a live stream of the same company’s foray into virtual reality helmets and designer mixed reality glasses. At a company with as many interests as Facebook has, different days call for different kinds of stories. And so today’s edition will be a lot different from yesterday’s.
This is all a roundabout way of saying that I talked to Mark Zuckerberg about Facebook Connect. The event, which was previously called Oculus Connect, gives the company an annual opportunity to discuss the latest advances in next-generation computing platforms. Facebook has sometimes faced doubts over why a social network would invest so much time and money into a hardware project with no uncertain payoff. But a summer of escalated tensions with Apple have helped to make the case: if you want to control your own destiny, you have to own your platform.
For those who haven’t been paying close attention to Oculus and what the company now calls Facebook Reality Labs, some background is in order. Facebook isn’t the only big company working on advanced headset computers — Apple, Google, and Snap are also investing billions in research and development. But with the Oculus Quest, the standalone headset that Facebook introduced last year, it arguably became the market leader in VR — the company furthest along in developing a base of users and a developer platform for a standalone headset. (Sony also makes a popular headset, but you’ll need a PlayStation to use it.)
Today Facebook announced Quest 2, which is $100 cheaper than its predecessor at $299 and less heavy to boot. The Verge’s Adi Robertson really liked it, calling it “the new default for VR, if you’re OK with Facebook.” Facebook hasn’t disclosed sales numbers for the Quest, but Zuckerberg said the company sold as many of them as the company could make. Andrew “Boz” Bosworth, who leads the company’s hardware projects, told me the Quest 2 represented a significant leap forward.
“We’re doing something that I think is honestly totally nuts and awesome,” he said. “Which is taking a product that is successful — exceeding dramatically our expectations— and just retiring it way prematurely and replacing it with a better, cheaper thing. I don’t know how many times in my career I will be able to do this. It might just be one, but I’m pumped about it.”
With augmented reality, Facebook is a few steps behind. Snap released the first generation of Spectacles in 2016; Facebook won’t have a product on the market this year. But the company says its first effort at consumer “smart glasses” will arrive next year. And in the meantime, it announced Project Aria — a research prototype for more full-featured augmented reality hardware that will soon be given to Facebook…
Read More: Mark Zuckerberg on why he doesn’t want to “put an Apple Watch on your face”