Mark Zuckerberg is making it clear that he’s ready for a fight with Apple. During Meta’s Connect conference today and in an interview with The Verge, he said that Apple’s currently unannounced VR platform is going to be worse for consumers because it’ll be a “closed ecosystem” while extolling Meta’s system as “open.”
He’s made this point before to his employees, telling them that Meta is in a “very deep, philosophical competition” with Apple for building the future of the metaverse, but today, he made that pitch public. While talking to my colleague Alex Heath about the partners Meta’s working with to improve its VR system, he mentions how the future of VR — be it a closed or open ecosystem — isn’t set yet:
Like in the interview, Zuckerberg closed his Connect conference talk (at about an hour and 50 minutes in) by calling back to computing history, saying that “in each generation of computing that I’ve seen so far — PCs, mobile — there’s basically an open ecosystem and there’s a closed ecosystem.” As examples, he cited Windows versus macOS and Android versus iOS. He also warned that closed ecosystems drive most of the value and profits they generate to the platform owner, saying: “closed ecosystems focus on tight control and integration to create unique experiences and lock-in... although most of that value ends up flowing to the platform over time.” That’s in contrast to open ecosystems, where Zuckerberg says that more people (and companies, of course) can share “the upside of what is created.”
In case there was any doubt as to which type of experience Zuckerberg wants people to prefer, he closed out his Connect presentation by saying, “I strongly believe that an open, interoperable metaverse built by many different developers and companies is going to be better for everyone.” If that platform is built using his company’s very expensive tech instead of Apple’s, it’ll certainly be better for Meta.
During his interview, he said that Apple could hurt other VR platforms if it has as much control over its headset as it exerts over things like the Mac and iPhone. “It’s certainly plausible that [Apple] see this competition in the future and want to hinder us. I think one thing that’s been pretty clear is that their motives in doing the things that they’re doing are not as altruistic as they claim them to be.”
It’s not totally clear how “open” the system Meta’s building actually is or what it’ll look like in the future. Zuckerberg’s argument for why Meta’s platform is open is that it has partners building software for it, like Microsoft, Autodesk, and Accenture. In his interview on Decoder, he also said he’d be open to working with other companies that are building VR headsets, though he stopped short of fully committing to bringing his company’s metaverse experiences to other platforms. (Currently, Horizon Worlds, its flagship VR app, is only officially available for Meta Quest headsets, though Zuckerberg has said it’ll be coming to phones and the web.) “I think that we’ll need to figure out how exactly that would work,” he said, after saying that he’d love to work with companies like Samsung “at the right time.”
Zuckerberg isn’t the only CEO beating this drum — Google has spent the past few months publicly shaming Apple for not supporting the RCS messaging standard that would vastly improve texts between iPhone and Android users. If Apple’s reaction to that situation is any example, it does seem like Zuckerberg is right that it and Meta won’t be getting along when it comes to VR; in answer to a question about how much of a pain it is trying to send videos to family members using Android, Tim Cook said you should just buy your mom an iPhone.
Similarly, Cook has seemed relatively dismissive of the idea that people would want to do all their work and social interaction in VR, which is the future Meta is building hardware for. Earlier this month, he said in an interview that VR was “something you can really immerse yourself in. And that can be used in a good way. But I don’t think you want to live your whole life that way.”
You can go here to read the full transcript of our interview with Mark Zuckerberg, or you can watch the whole thing at the top of this page.