10 Years After Facebook Bought Oculus, What’s Next for Meta’s VR Plans?


2014 doesn’t seem that long ago to me. But in technology, 10 years can be an infinity. I was writing for CNET, like I still am today, but smartwatches weren’t even mainstream yet. And even though Facebook bought Oculus that year, ahead of the expected release of the Oculus Rift, the only VR available in any finished form that year was a phone-connected pair of plastic goggles known as the Samsung Gear VR.

In 2024, VR’s still not massively adopted, but it has gone mainstream several times over. I know plenty of families with Quest 2 headsets doing workouts or using them for games. And now even Apple is exploring virtual and mixed reality with its first headset, the Vision Pro. Meta’s Ray-Ban smart glasses, meanwhile, have started to feel less absurd as a wave of AI wearables coming from startups like Humane and Brilliant Labs emerge into similar territory. Meta is bringing its own AI features to the glasses this month.

For a trip back in time and a look forward, I spoke with Meta’s chief technology officer Andrew Bosworth about where Meta could be headed next: with the Quest 3, with AI, with smart glasses and with AR glasses to come.

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Supernatural is still one of the most compelling fitness experiences on Meta Quest, but Meta could improve the hardware for fitness even further.

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Getting more people into headsets and glasses: Will fitness-focused Quests be a part?

One unexpected part of Meta’s Quest headset success story to this point is how much fitness apps have played a part. It’s been one of the biggest things I use the Quest for. And yet, even with the inroads Meta’s made in fitness and gaming, they’re not enough. Meta’s sold millions of Quests, but those numbers pale in comparison to the number of global Facebook subscribers. Bosworth wants to deepen the appeal of the Quest, maybe by expanding the product line in new directions.

“I like fitness, because it’s a good example of a market of people who would not otherwise be on this device or any device like it,” Bosworth says. “But how can we support a broader ecosystem of devices? What’s that look like? That’s the thing we’re thinking about now.”

Is the next step fitness-focused headsets? Bosworth agrees that fitness has been a huge part of the Quest’s popularity, and a distinct advantage over devices like Apple’s Vision Pro. Bosworth wants to imagine something more fitness-optimized, but acknowledges there may be trade-offs.

“Can you get better ergonomics? If you want to have a more fitness-oriented piece of hardware, that’s going to make trades on battery life. And fitness isn’t just about ergonomics; you’ve got to be more cautious about sweat and debris. So you’re changing the hardware in ways that for somebody who’s like, ‘Hey, I’m just here to do immersive gaming,’ well, now it’s a nonoverlapping piece.”

The Quest lineup already has a Pro device, a midlevel Quest 3 and a budget Quest 2, recently dropped below $200. Bridging to a fitness-focused product, or maybe a gaming-focused one, would be fascinating. Is that possibly a sign of where the lineup evolves into in the future? Or would it be through accessories?

Meta's Michael Abrash stands in front of a wall of VR headsets

Michael Abrash, chief scientist at Meta’s Reality Labs Research, talks to me in front of a wall of prototype VR and AR headsets in 2022. The final form of AR glasses is still in flux now.

Meta

Meta’s AR glasses may work in all new ways

The most futuristic version of mixed reality devices rely on hand tracking while removing controllers entirely, just like the Vision Pro does today. Meta’s bridging hand tracking and physical controller inputs at the same time. But beyond that, new interfaces loom: neural input wristbands that Meta’s been working on for years, that could be key controllers for future AR glasses, or maybe even other inputs as well.

Bosworth supports customized controllers for the Quest, but beyond that, he admits that it’s going to be a big, strange leap to get to inputs for glasses. “The fastest way to get information from the world into our brains is through our eyes. Getting things from you to the machine is trickier. The fastest is speech, but it’s not the most discreet, and it’s awkward, and weird. And speech is a terrible way to navigate a screen.”

Bosworth admits the future of interfaces, despite Apple making some headway with the Vision Pro’s hand and eye tracking, is still unclear. “Do you want to have a neural interface? Do you want to do air typing? Do you want to do a swiping touchy thing? Are you doing the eye tracking and tapping thing? We’re doing all those things,” Bosworth says of Meta’s Reality Labs research efforts.

“We’re talking about a completely novel architecture. We haven’t really played with a novel architecture since Xerox PARC,” he says, referring to the R&D division that invented the idea of the computer desktop, among many other foundation stones of modern computing.

I ask about Meta’s next conceptual pair of AR glasses, which Bosworth says will be ready to demo at some point in the “not too distant” future. Those glasses, which Bosworth mysteriously promises will be “real-time machines,” aren’t ready for everyday use yet for a number of reasons.

“Part of the reason they’re prototypes is there’s not a clear path to a consumer-friendly cost structure.” Bosworth points to the displays being big factors in cost and battery life challenges, among other things. “We have a good sense of all the problems. There’s interface and input challenges as well. And we’re making tremendous progress. But I gotta tell you, they are the hardest problems that we’ve tackled in a long time as an industry.”

Meta Ray-Ban glasses next to Apple's Vision Pro headset

Thinking about Meta’s Ray-Bans next to Apple’s Vision Pro, and how they capture memories differently, made me think about where Meta could go next.

Scott Stein/CNET

When will glasses and headsets start to play together more?

I also asked Bosworth about the potential for Meta’s Ray-Bans and Quest devices to start sharing more features with each other, like smartwatches and phones do today. The concept occurred to me as I was recording moments of a recent vacation on Meta’s glasses and with Apple’s spatial video, which also plays in Quest headsets. Bosworth told me last year that the first Ray-Bans were designed with spatial video in mind and two cameras, but Meta moved away from that idea, while Apple has since put spatial video at the forefront.

Watch this: Apple and Meta Are Competing for Your Memories

Meta could go back to spatial video on its glasses in a future model, Bosworth says, but he isn’t so quick to imagine ways for the glasses to share more things with Quest headsets. Instead, he’s more focused on ways for the glasses to be better at sharing with the rest of the world, people who don’t have headsets or glasses at all.

“The [new] Ray-Ban Metas are optimized around one 12-megapixel camera,” he said. “There’s no stereo camera, no stereo overlap. That may change over time. But I’ll tell you, the No. 1 thing that caused digital photos to become a major part of our lives was our ability to share them. I think there is power in nostalgia, in the relived memory. But I think it’s the secondary power relative to the primary thing of, ‘I want you to experience this now.'”

Multi-colored spheres next to a car in a virtual scene from a video game, at night

Roblox has been exploring generative AI in its creator tools. Meta may be next.

Roblox

AI: On glasses now, maybe in the Quest next

Meta’s Ray-Ban smart glasses, updated last fall, will start getting generative AI features onboard in the next month. I’ve been living with some of these features in early access this year, and the way they recognize things in the real world using the onboard camera is a sign of where more wearables, and eventually AR glasses, will start to do the same.

“This time last year, we still didn’t have a plan to put AI in the glasses,” Bosworth admits. Now, the AI features are becoming the glasses’ most unique feature, competing with other emerging AI wearables and devices like the Humane AI Pin and Rabbit R1.

While AI on glasses and wearables feels like the next big wave, Bosworth points to another major role generative AI can play on the Meta Quest. AI enables gamers and creators to more easily build 3D assets. “One of the most exciting things for gen AI in immersive spaces is actually on the creator side,” he says. “Our goal is to allow anybody to go create a space that they are proud of, that they can invite their friends to and hang out.”

Similar to what game companies like Roblox are already exploring, Bosworth sees gen AI finally solving challenges of creation in the metaverse, for example in Meta’s Horizon Worlds. “You can say to gen AI, hey, I want to make a house, midcentury modern with a glass wall, and beyond the glass walls, a set of mountains. That’s pretty credible for gen AI to do. We’re really excited about that set of tools.” Bosworth sees potential for pro creators as well, citing ideas for more advanced NPCs in games that could have AI interactions as another example.

Meta’s newest Quest 3 chipset could allow for deeper AI features, according to Qualcomm last year. It sounds like Meta’s going to enable some of these ideas sooner rather than later.

Editors’ note: CNET used an AI engine to help create several dozen stories, which are labeled accordingly. For more, see our AI policy.





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