The CEOs of Meta and Apple, Mark Zuckerberg and Tim Cook, respectively, have been at odds over internet privacy and digital advertising for years. However, with Apple’s announcement of the Vision Pro, a long-awaited mixed reality headset, the two companies are now direct competitors. Both Zuckerberg and Cook view the next era of personal computing as involving people wearing headsets to enter a virtual world and interact with digital objects in 3D, also known as spatial computing or the metaverse. Facebook entered the market nine years ago with its acquisition of Oculus, and now, as Meta, the company owns the largest share of the nascent market, with sales of its VR and AR headsets outpacing rivals like Sony, HTC, and Magic Leap.
The Competition and the Future
Apple’s entry into the VR and AR market could give the sector the push it needs to get consumers excited about the technology. However, the Vision Pro is not designed to be a mass-market product, with an initial price of $3,499. Meanwhile, Meta offers more affordable options with its Quest family of VR headsets, including the $300 Quest 2 and the $500 Quest 3, which will be available in the fall. Zuckerberg has committed to spending billions of dollars per quarter to develop the underlying VR and AR technologies needed to bring his vision of the future to life.
Meta’s Reality Labs division, responsible for hardware and software development, lost $13.72 billion last year and $3.99 billion in the first quarter, which contributed to a 2022 stock price drop of almost two-thirds. However, after Zuckerberg reduced expenses in other areas of the company, including customer service and trust and safety, the shares rebounded.
Meta is trying to turn mixed reality into a business reality, which has become central to the company’s future. Unlike Apple or Google parent Alphabet, Meta does not control an operating system equivalent to iOS or Android, which allowed Apple and Google to dominate the smartphone market and generate billions of dollars from their app stores. These platforms also dictate the rules that third-party developers, including Facebook, must follow.
Zuckerberg has criticized Apple’s unfair iOS and app store policies, saying that by removing targeting capabilities, Apple is hurting the small businesses that use Facebook’s ad model to reach new customers. Cook has been unsympathetic, criticizing Facebook for making money off users’ personal information instead of selling a product that people want to buy. By developing the metaverse on its own terms, Meta has the best chance of sidestepping Apple’s dominance and writing its own rules.
The Developers and Disney
Apple’s new operating system for the Vision Pro, called visionOS, means that Meta and Apple will be competing for developers who want to get their games and apps to the widest audience possible. Disney’s recent decision to kill its metaverse division under the leadership of Bob Iger, who returned to the company last year, could be concerning news for Meta. However, Iger announced during Apple’s WWDC event that Disney’s streaming service would be available for the new headset, suggesting that a whole new set of experiences is coming to Apple.
“We’re constantly in search of new ways to entertain, inform and inspire our fans by combining extraordinary creativity with groundbreaking technology to create truly remarkable experiences,” Iger said during the keynote address. “And we believe Apple Vision Pro is a revolutionary platform that can make our vision a reality.”