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Meta Quest 3 approaches mainstream AR/VR

2023 will likely be a turning point for AR and VR. Apple unveiled the Vision Pro at WWDC in June after years of waiting for the iPhone moment. This was the company’s usual big, boisterous, polished presentation with lofty promises and a high price.

From my conversations with most of the major vendors over the past year, everyone seemed to enjoy the 500-pound gorilla. They expected to be ships in a rising tide. More importantly, Apple’s entry may validate years or decades of work.

The upcoming Vision Pro has increased competition pressure and attention. Magic Leap likely received more press coverage after Apple’s announcement than when it was a mysterious white-hot early-stage startup. I also assume more people than ever followed Meta’s Connect event to see its response.

Road maps don’t work that way. The Meta Quest was undoubtedly planned before the Vision Pro was announced. So you can’t say the new hardware is a direct response to Apple. On the other hand, Meta has been in business for a while. The company bought Oculus a decade ago in March. It had to forge its own path since then.

Meta and Apple are now on opposite ends of the spectrum. Both are mixed reality hardware, but prices differ greatly. Many analysts were surprised when Apple priced the Vision Pro at $3,500 above the Magic Leap 2. However, the Meta Quest 3 costs $3,000 less. Apple’s product costs 6x Meta’s.

I don’t think the Quest 3’s hardware compares to the Vision Pro, but the difference is huge. It also shows the audience diversity. Mark Zuckerberg called the Quest 3 “the first mainstream headset with high-res color mixed reality” without naming the competition.

After the Vision Pro’s unveiling, Zucker hit harder, saying, “By contrast, every demo that [Apple] showed was a person sitting on a couch alone. That could be the future of computing, but I don’t want it.”

There’s no clear definition of “mainstream,” but good point. I think $500 is too high to call the system mainstream (the mind boggles at how many of these things the company would sell at $200 each), but that’s a more reasonable price for most buyers.

All of these are disproportionately affected by perceived markets. Magic Leap’s enterprise focus is due to the hardware’s high cost and content difficulty. There may not be many customers willing to pay $3,500 for AR headset casual games. Businesses will take a long look at your offering if you convince them they’ll save a lot on training.

Meta also supports the venture. It introduced the Quest Pro last year, costing twice as much as the Quest 3. I believe the new headset makes the pro version unnecessary for most users, but Meta Quest for Business remains committed to the category. However, the Quest 3 prioritizes entertainment.

Magic Leap sees no immediate gaming potential, but Apple stressed entertainment at WWDC. Meta lives and breathes gaming. The Meta Quest keynote reinforced this, with new titles taking up most of the stage and Quest for Business barely mentioned.

Like your definition of “mainstream,” Meta’s success is relative. The company leads market share. According to IDC, the company held 84.6% of the AR/VR market in Q2 2022. The company’s Q2 2023 market share of 50.2% is misleading. The PSVR 2’s arrival caused the sharp drop. IDC went from ignoring Sony to ranking it second at 27.2%.

When the new PlayStation headset arrived, the Meta Quest 2 was old. With Quest 3, Meta should take a bigger share of the pie in 2023. Note that these are not smartphone numbers. The analyst firm estimates 8.5 million shipments for the year. That’s up slightly from 2017. In 2024, it expects strong growth and over 30 million headsets by 2027.

That modest forecast pales in comparison to other consumer electronics. Nintendo sold 5.8 million Switches in 2022. As a five-year-old console, it sold well, but not as well as it did during the pandemic two years prior. Switch sales reached 125 million in May.

Meta’s Quest 3 successes are modest, but they’re the least modest. Big fish, small pond, especially since HTC, its closest hardware competitor, held 2% of the market in Q3. Meta has done well relative to the market, and the company has too much invested in the Quest to pull the plug.

Of course, evolution is possible. For the first 34 minutes of his keynote, Zuck avoided using “metaverse”. That doesn’t mean the project is dead, but it may not have legs (figuratively).

After using the Meta Quest 3 for several days, I want to note two major caveats: The Vision Pro hasn’t been tested yet, but I’ve used the Quest Pro and the latest Magic Leap, HTC, and Sony phones. Second, my injury has prevented me from using the system’s many fitness apps.

I’ve enjoyed using the product so far. After using the system, I’m closest to buying a headset. Had the Quest Pro not cost $1,000, I might have agreed. Meta may not have hit the mark with the price, but a $3,500 Vision Pro will make a $500 headset more bearable.

After adding passthrough technology, the Quest Pro and Quest 3 are being marketed as XR devices. Passthrough lets headsets offer AR despite opaque visors to maintain VR functionality (Magic Leap is true AR). The system overlays graphics on an image of the environment created by on-board cameras.

Passthrough improves each year, but no headset wearer will believe it’s transparent. Passthrough appears darker and lower-res. Latency and image distortion are issues. However, your eyes and brain adjust quickly, making it better than standalone VR. Situational awareness is improved, and the on-board depth sensors identify landmarks and obstacles for the graphics to mix with.

First Encounter shows how developers can integrate games into AR. With two guns, you blast fuzzy Koosh ball aliens in the game. The weapons can also blast real walls, revealing more of the brightly colored surroundings. Fun game for a few minutes. Consider it an immersive casual mobile game. That suggests a Meta Quest platform issue. Often best in fits and starts. Look closely at Sony’s latest PSVR headset for serious gaming.

Of course, longer titles exist. This headset comes with a free copy of Asgard’s Wrath 2. Content, hardware, and off-device processing are different with the PlayStation headset.

It’s not comforting either. In fact, PSVR 2 tethers you. However, the Quest 3 is portable. It weighs 515 grams, less than the PSVR 2 (560 grams) and the Quest Pro (722 grams). It’s slightly heavier than the Quest 2’s 503 grams, but the new strap system is more comfortable. The battery is in the front for weight distribution and the size has been reduced.

Battery life is 2.5 hours, comparable to the Quest 2 (app-dependent). Most users will be comfortable wearing it as long as the battery lasts, but strenuous exercise may affect your mileage.

Meta improved its resolution between Quest 2 and 3, from 1832 x 1920 per eye to 2065 x 2208. This is a big improvement, especially with the 50 or so titles remastered for the new device. Meanwhile, the Quest 2 controllers have been simplified, eliminating the ring. They’re easy to use and comfortable to hold.

The system also tracks hands well. You can do a lot with your hands, but gaming is better with controllers. I’ve always been interested in VR’s potential for mindfulness and psychedelic effects, but most games won’t track in a dim room (to eliminate light bleed around the nose). Maybe I’m the only one who cares. Who knows?

You can use over 500 apps on the Quest 3 because it’s backward compatible with Quest 2. Soon, 50 remastered games and 50 more designed for Quest 3 will be added, including Ghostbusters, Stranger Things, and Assassin’s Creed. The Meta Quest store has a wide range of quality, but that’s expected.

More important is how the form factor inspires new games and apps. The future of VR and AR is uncertain, but it’s an exciting platform with endless possibilities for new experiences, from fast-paced shooting games to meditation.

The Quest 3 is a compelling reason to buy a VR headset. When a more accessible headset will arrive is unknown. We may not see one until Quest 4 a few years from now.

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