The New Meta Quest is Here. Who's It For Exactly?
The latest VR experience costs more than almost all of its competitors in a niche market.
Meta (née Facebook) announced its latest virtual reality innovation on Tuesday: the Meta Quest Pro, its high-end headset that it hopes will revolutionize the way people work—in a virtual world rather than a real one.
In its keynote, Meta highlighted the new headset with demos like Microsoft Teams in VR in a chat between Meta’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. It also announced a major investment in more game studios that are creating virtual reality experiences. But at a whopping $1,499, who is the Meta Quest Pro for, exactly?
Much of Meta’s marketing around the new headset is for productivity and work in VR. Its website shows that Adobe Acrobat, Dropbox, Gravity Sketch and Lastpass… all who will have compatible VR experiences when the headset releases on Oct. 25. The headset is lighter and reportedly more comfortable than many others. It can track your facial expressions with a camera to mimic it with your VR avatar. But this is all presuming that people want work in the metaverse and not the real world.
In 2022, virtual reality is still very much a nice-to-have, not a necessity. By comparison to its now big brother, the Meta Quest 2—even though recently price-bumped to $399—is the perfect VR toy.
It will undoubtedly be a popular holiday buy this winter. It checks all the boxes: it requires zero computer connectivity, it has a palatable, not-bank-breaking price tag for middle-class families and it does, to its credit, present a truly unique experience, especially to gamers.
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But the Quest Pro feels like Meta is getting ahead of itself, assuming our “Ready Player One” moment is in the next year. In reality, it’s probably not even in the next decade.
This is the world that Meta and Zuckerberg are hitching their tow to, though. One that is oddly confusing, but that makes total sense when looking at the bigger picture of a bored billionaire who’s persistently under fire for the products that actually drive Meta revenues—Facebook and Instagram.
As the Zuck dilly-dallies away in his VR meetings, he avoids the noise around him. That Facebook is one of the biggest social media websites contributing to Internet radicalization. That Instagram, its facade of perfection and its algorithms serving up that facade are one of the leading causes for body-image issues among teenage girls. That his apps are also losing attention rapidly to the likes of TikTok, which is sucking the air out of the room for Internet content consumption. And that regulators across the world are waiting, salivating over the moment that they can break up Meta, spin off Instagram and WhatsApp.
Zuck’s own obsession with VR might sound farfetched, but it’s not. When the former Oculus products are the topic, he is happy to come out from his Palo Alto mansion and sit down with the press.
He did so under embargo with The Verge deputy editor Alex Heath, who—thankfully, and to his credit—did point some hard questions at Zuckerberg. But Zuckerberg’s only other longform media appearance of late is Joe Rogan, who’s easily marveled by the smallest of technological brilliance. Zuck’s not exactly facing the tech journalists who’d needle him for all the aforementioned concerns stemming from his company.
Virtual reality is also doing no favors for Meta’s profit-and-loss margins. One of the kings of the online advertising industry, Meta has focused a lot of its spending on VR—spending $2.8 billion on Reality Labs, the subsidiary behind the Quest devices, in Q2 2022. It sold only $452 million that quarter. More than a $2.5-billion loss on that sector of its business and the company said in July that it expected Q3 to be even worse for sales (Q3 earnings won’t be reported until Oct. 26). But the financial situation isn’t deterring Zuckerberg one bit.
“When Mark gets super-focused on something, it becomes all-hands-on-deck within the company,” former Facebook policy director Katie Harbath told The New York Times for a July story about the company’s pivot. “Teams will quickly drop other work to pivot to the issue at hand, and the pressure is intense to move fast to show progress.”
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Zuckerberg’s drive for the metaverse is earnest, at least. In a space full of people grifting for self-enrichment, with billions of dollars of venture capital pouring into anything that simply has the word “metaverse” in its pitch deck, Zuckerberg seems to legitimately care. But it does seem he’s obsessing over the wrong thing as other parts of his company suffer from both an engagement and public relations perspective.
There’s no consumer sign that even the Meta Quest 2 will become dominant in its vertical. As I wrote a few weeks ago about the PSVR 2—which will likely be in the $500 price range, on top of requiring a $500 PS5 to operate—virtual reality is still very much a niche vertical for gamers. Meta has marketed the Quest 2 as an exercise machine, and granted, it is fun as one, but its primary use remains for gaming experiences. Not for exercise and certainly not for productivity.
Meta will certainly get B2B customers for the Quest Pro who will give it a shot as an enterprise tool for their workplaces. The idea in itself, to make virtual connections more intimate, isn’t bad. In fact, in a world where online social connections are growing to be a predominant part of people’s lives, we could use a little bit more of that. It’s just that it won’t come through a $1,499 headset.