Meta’s Reality Labs division might be burning billions, but it’s not all going toward not-great VR headsets. The company is currently putting “about half” of Reality Labs’ operating expenses toward augmented reality (AR), Meta CTO and Reality Labs head Andrew Bosworth said in an extensive blog post on Monday.
The company has been pushing toward its vision of AR glasses for a while, and while that product might still be very far out, Meta has taken recent steps to get closer to it. Last year’s Ray-Ban Stories sunglasses look like regular glasses and are equipped with cameras, and the Meta Quest Pro is capable of more immersive AR thanks to its color passthrough.
But that fully complete glasses product from Meta could be years away, even with how much the company is investing in AR. “Our vision for true AR glasses will require years of progress making our devices slimmer, lighter, faster, and more powerful, all while consuming way less battery power and generating much less heat,” Bosworth said. The Verge reported in June that the first version of Meta’s standalone AR glasses will be for developers only, like Snap’s recent AR Spectacles, and the company is working on three iterations of glasses to be released over the course of years.
Meta’s AR glasses could be paired with additional hardware, according to a Monday report from The Information. One device the company is testing is shaped like a phone and could be used to “send commands to the glasses or to access more computing power for them,” The Information says. Meta also attempted to make a smartwatch to pair with the glasses but ran into power and design problems.
In his post, Bosworth discussed other aspects of Reality Labs’ work that could see meaningful updates next year. He reiterated that the company is working hard to improve its widely ridiculed avatar system, with “plenty more to share on this in 2023.” (Meta shared in October that it figured out legs.) Horizon Worlds, Meta’s Roblox-like social VR platform, has been struggling to keep users, but Bosworth promises that Meta is going to “spend 2023 focused on helping this community flourish.” And you can look forward to a “Meta Quest Gaming Showcase” in the spring and the official reveal of the “successor to the Meta Quest 2,” something CEO Mark Zuckerberg also brought up in the company’s most recent earnings.
As someone watching the VR and AR space, I appreciate Bosworth recapping the year and laying out what’s next. But his post is likely also intended to show Meta’s commitment to VR and AR ahead of what’s a potentially huge year for AR / VR hardware. (Meta probably also wants to put its best foot forward after the sudden departure of John Carmack on Friday.)
HTC has already said it will announce a lightweight Meta Quest competitor in just a few weeks at CES. The device, like the Meta Quest Pro, will be capable of VR, AR, and color passthrough. And Apple is widely expected to jump into VR / AR by revealing its own high-end headset next year. Meta expects the field to get more crowded with “new competitors joining us in building for AR and VR next year,” Bosworth wrote. We’ll have to wait and see if what the company has built — and what it has in store — is enough to make all of its investments worth it.