How will Meta handle a dose of Apple Reality?

Apple is preparing to introduce its first-generation mixed-reality device following years of development. Meta is upset and is trying to score a few punches before its competitor enters the ring.

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Here is what we think we know: Apple is preparing to introduce its first-generation mixed-reality device after years of development (and speculation). Meta is upset by the comping competition and is now trying to land a few punches before its competitor enters the ring.

Ready for the ride

That’s why Meta’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, threw some shade at his competitor at Meta Connect. In doing so, the company is attempting to position itself as a champion of an open metaverse. “I strongly believe that an open, interoperable metaverse built by many different developers and companies is going to be better for everyone,” he said.

This does remind me of the arguments Google used when it introduced Android, and it does rather amuse me that Apple is experiencing rapid resurgence in PC sales even as the number of Android-to-iPhone switchers is apparently on the increase.

Zuckerberg’s approach to open also reminds me of the kind of partnerships Microsoft held with others until antitrust regulators stepped in to limit its control of the PC market. At that time, the PC market was open so long as you did what you were told.

Throw in a few customer satisfaction data points and you could probably make an argument to support the idea that the concept of open often turns out to be better for everyone except consumers.

While making such a case probably pits you against free-market ideologues, you’d probably win support from Steve Jobs, who once said, "We think the open vs. closed is just a smokescreen to try and hide the real issue, which is: What's best for the customer?”

What will you look like with a Meta on you?

Zuckerberg also introduced Meta’s $1,499 Quest Pro headset, its latest system for AR/VR experiences. That’s why, when speaking to Stratechery’s Ben Thompson, he talked about Apple. He implied that Apple will charge “as much” as it can for its still unannounced and unconfirmed mixed-reality headset.

Interestingly, Zuckerberg has previously argued that Apple has no ecosystem to support its headset. He’s entitled to his opinion, but that does seem a rather mixed-up reality, given Apple’s vast army of independent developers and its rich selection of developer APIs for AR and associated experiences.

The Meta master has also criticized Apple’s 30/70 (in actuality, 15/85) revenue split with App Store developers. He’s so critical, in fact, that he’s reportedly preparing to charge Meta AR app developers up to 47.5% cut, which seems at best, erm, "logically inconsistent."

Zuckerberg has gone quite deep on what his Quest can do. Among other things, he says it lets you wear a virtual workspace on your head. Though you probably won’t want to wear it for too long, given the US army has warned extended use of such technologies for military activities exposes troops to headaches, eyestrain and nausea.

Nausea is predictable. Way back in 1794, young UK Queen Charlotte had to swiftly leave the Leicester Square Rotunda — where early VR experiences were available — when she suffered nausea. Though it’s doubtful that system was also reading her emotions or tracking her face movements at the time, presumably to sell data about her emotional reactions to advertisers.

Ready if its fighting time

Unless I’ve missed a memo, we all know Meta’s business model demands its users become a richly monetized open book. This is surely part of the business plan Meta has with its Quest, which is why it wants to sell them as widely as possible.

“We’re going to build the best hardware in the space and we’re going to basically sell it at a break-even point and in some cases [at a loss],” Zuckerberg apparently said.

We know Apple and Meta haven’t been getting along. For years, Apple CEO Tim Cook has warned against the business model Meta uses and his campaign for privacy may yet deliver a more private and creative model for online advertising. Apple has even made pro-privacy changes to its platforms that seem to have damaged Meta’s bottom line.

But by attempting to bend reality to cast Apple as a company that is greedy and controlling while suggesting his own firm champions openness, I think Meta’s chief has pushed reality distortion too far. I think these arguments expose Meta’s own weakness as Apple prepares to join it in the ring.

Those arguments won’t protect the company against the non-virtual reality that once Apple eventually does join the brawl, having given Meta those free feints, it’s going to be Apple that lands the next punch

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Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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