It’s the PC vs. Mac war all over again, but this time it’s Meta vs. Apple. At least, that’s what’s about to unfold according to Mark Zuckerberg. In a recent all-hands meeting, the Meta CEO stated the coming battle for control over the metaverse will be not just between it and Apple. It will also be a philosophical battle pitting open standards against Apple’s locked-down, walled garden. If that sounds familiar, it’s almost the exact same battle that played out decades ago between Apple and Microsoft. Apple wanted to control both the hardware and software for Mac, while Microsoft took the opposite approach. It let other companies design hardware for its software, and it ultimately won that battle. Now it appears a similar showdown of ideas will occur in the metaverse.
The comments from Zuckerberg laid out Meta’s position quite clearly. It’s building Virtual Reality (VR) hardware that can be used in various online platforms. So, if you have a Meta Quest 2 headset you’re not confined to only being able to enjoy software or online worlds built by Meta. You could theoretically go to other metaverses, and move valuables around between platforms too. Though Apple has not announced or released its VR headset yet, when it does it’s expected to be typical Apple. That means Apple will be the gatekeeper. There will likely be no way, for example, for you to use an Apple headset in a Meta-based online world. That is, unless Meta makes a version you can download from the Apple App store, which is highly unlikely.
In his comments, Zuckerberg also draws a comparison to Android versus iOS as well. iOS is famously locked down, as all apps have to be approved by Apple. However, Android allows side-loading of non-approved apps. Such lax policies have allowed Android to overtake iOS in global market share, but iOS is still top dog in the US. Zuckerberg goes on to say Apple’s strategy has largely worked for mobile though, as it’s hard to argue with the iPhone’s success. However, he noted it’s not clear if that same approach will work for the metaverse. “One of the things I think is interesting is that it’s not really clear upfront whether an open or closed ecosystem is going to be better,” he said. (Open versus closed is much less important than “Facebook” versus literally “Anyone else but Facebook. – Ed)
As proof of its commitment to open standards, last month Meta helped spearhead the development of an open standards group for the metaverse. It was joined in that effort by companies such as Epic Games, Microsoft, Nvidia, and Sony. Apple did not join the consortium, to the surprise of precisely nobody. Apple’s refusal to join the group, combined with its past behavior, seem to signal it will continue its locked-down approach with its VR headset.
Overall, Zuckerberg sees this coming battle as a war over philosophies, according to The Verge. “This is a competition of philosophies and ideas, where they believe that by doing everything themselves and tightly integrating that they build a better consumer experience. And we believe that there is a lot to be done in specialization across different companies, and [that] will allow a much larger ecosystem to exist.”
Apple is expected to announce its fledgling VR headset at its October hardware event. It would theoretically go on sale sometime in 2023. The company has reportedly been working on its design for over seven years now. It’s also been revamping all its native apps to work with an all-new mixed reality operating system dubbed rOS for Reality Operating System. At the same time, Meta has shown glimpses of its first high-end headset dubbed Project Cambria (above), which is expected to compete directly with Apple’s headset.
Despite Apple losing the war for the lion’s share of the PC market with its “tightly integrated” approach, it remains to be seen if that will work for the meterverse, as Zuckerberg states. Still, it’s hard to count Apple out of anything as it tends to dominate every market it enters. A big factor will be pricing though, as Zuckerberg alludes to in his comments. He says the company breaks even or loses money on every Quest 2 headset it sells. That’s because it just wants people to get into the metaverse, then open their wallets.
In contrast, that is not how Apple operates. It has to have a non-trivial profit margin, or else it wouldn’t bother. That is, unless it can make money on the software side of things like it does with gaming. The metaverse doesn’t work that way though, as you will likely need Apple’s headset to enjoy its company-approved offerings.