Why Mark Zuckerberg and Meta Want to Build the AR iPhone
Thanks to The edge’Like Alex Heath, we now know more about Meta’s plans to shape the metaverse by building its own hugely ambitious augmented reality hardware.
Heath’s article, “Mark Zuckerberg’s Augmented Reality”, covers two products with the code name. “Project Nazere” is a high-end pair of AR glasses that doesn’t require a smartphone, with the first version shipping in 2024, followed by upgrades in 2026 and 2028. Also due in 2024, “Hypernova”, a more economical AR glasses that layer on top of the connectivity and computing power of a smartphone.
The piece is packed with technical details, such as Nazere’s use of custom waveguides and microLED projectors to merge your view of the real with a digital overlay. Nazere and Hypernova are said to work with a wrist device that uses differential electromyography to detect electrical neurons, allowing input akin to mind control. (Over a year ago, my colleague Mark Sullivan wrote an overview of this technology.)
But with all the details of Heath’s story, what’s also striking is his discussion of how these planned products fit into Meta’s higher goals. They are, of course, an extension of Mark Zuckerberg‘s hopes, dreams and aspirations:
If the AR glasses and other futuristic hardware that Meta is building ever catch on, they could cast the company, and by extension Zuckerberg, in a new light. “Zuck’s ego is closely tied to [the glasses]says a former employee who worked on the project. “He wants this to be an iPhone moment.”
Everyone is entitled to their own definition of an “iPhone moment”. Presumably, this is a product of truly groundbreaking impact – not necessarily the first in its field, but an unprecedented category-defining blockbuster bringing it to the masses. Something like, well, you know, the iPhone.
For a tech CEO like Zuckerberg, creating an iPhone moment isn’t just about selling something hugely successful; it also provides full control over an ecosystem. It allows a company to chart its own destiny in a way it never can if it relies on someone else’s platform.
Zuckerberg has long been bothered by the fact that Facebook/Meta’s products have historically sat atop environments operated by other companies, such as Apple and Google. I know because he told me himself.
One of my big regrets is that Facebook didn’t have a major chance to shape the mobile operating system ecosystem.
Mark Zuckerberg, 2015
In 2015, near the end of the period when Facebook seemed like an unstoppable phenomenon rather than a troubled giant, I interviewed Zuckerberg for a fast business cover story. “One of my big regrets,” he said, “is that Facebook didn’t have a major chance to shape the mobile operating system ecosystem.” The smartphone revolution had arrived before Facebook was big enough to build its own platform, leaving it as a mere – albeit remarkably popular – tenant on iPhones and Android phones. (The company’s attempt to reclaim some control over the experience, with an Android interface called Facebook Home, has become one of its most iconic flops.)
Since Zuckerberg expressed this disappointment to me, he’s only had more reason to be frustrated with his company’s lack of authority over the experiences it creates. Exhibit A: Apple’s App Tracking Transparency (ATT) feature, which presents iPhone users with a dialog to choose whether an app can track them or not. Most are opting out, a move that strikes at the heart of Meta’s targeted advertising business. In February, when Meta said ATT could cost it $10 billion in lost revenue in 2022, the result was an inventory crash of historic proportions.
By the time Meta’s AR glasses hit the market, it’s entirely possible that their main competitor will be . . . Apple AR glasses. Is it any wonder that Zuckerberg hopes Meta, not Apple, will create the augmented reality iPhone?
Not many iPhones
The thing is, we can’t be sure Meta, Apple, or anyone else will manage to conjure up an iPhone for AR moment. In the 15 years since the smartphone’s debut, even Apple’s biggest launches, such as the iPad and Apple Watch, haven’t been so transformative for the company, the industry or society. There haven’t been so many iPhone-like moments before the iPhone has arrived, either: obvious candidates include versions of the first IBM PC in 1981, Windows 95 in 1995, and the first iPod in 2001.
When I spoke with Zuckerberg in 2015, he expressed his desire to shape a platform from scratch against the backdrop of Facebook’s still recent $2 billion acquisition of virtual reality pioneer Oculus. . Under Facebook/Meta ownership, Oculus has become the dominant VR platform by any measure. Meta’s Quest 2 headset held 78% of the virtual reality market last year, with sales of 8.7 million units, according to IDC. And Quest headset owners have spent a total of $1 billion on games and other content.
But VR still hasn’t had its iPhone moment, if that means a product becoming a truly ubiquitous part of modern life. Perhaps that helps explain why Facebook kicked the box a few years later by betting it all on the Metaverse – a concept that’s essentially an amalgamation of VR and AR, and still raw enough that few believe it. expect it to have its iPhone moment in the immediate future.
Another thing about iPhone moments: rather than being neat little inflection points, they often unfold over the years. This was even true in the case of the iPhone itself, whose early sales were considered a bit disappointing and which only got its major App Store 18 months after the first iPhone was announced. Then there’s the iPod, which didn’t reach its full potential until Apple made it compatible with Windows in 2002 and opened a music download store in 2003. Did I mention that Windows 95 was delivered a decade after the first version of the operating system?
Since Meta is already planning his AR roadmap until at least 2028 and has stated that his vision for the metaverse involves 10-15 years of work, he understands that this is an epic journey with many milestones . That means it could be years before anyone knows if Zuckerberg will finally satisfy his yen to shape the tech industry’s next big thing. Even infinite patience and a willingness to invest tens of billions of dollars in the effort guarantees nothing.