Communication in the future will be a matter of snapping your fingers and ‘teleporting’ to the person you want chat with.
No, there hasn’t been a major development in physics – rather this is Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s vision of life with augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR).
Speaking on the Information’s 411 podcast, Zuckerberg dove into his intention behind focusing on creating technologies that overlay or replace reality with digital images.
He said Facebook is “invest[ing] deeply” in mixed reality technologies to make sure their advancement as consumer products is “fundamentally about people being present with each other and coming together”.
“Rather than calling someone or having a video chat, you just kind of snap your fingers and teleport,” Zuckerberg said.
“Then you're sitting there on their couch and it feels like you're there together.”
The Facebook CEO pegged AR/VR as being the next major step in personal computing and social interaction – which would make it ripe for the kinds of data extraction that fuels Facebook’s advertising revenue.
When asked about how he plans to monetise mixed reality technology, Zuckerberg pointed to Google Android as his model for an open app-building ecosystem that sees developers create a variety of user experiences such as ‘teleporting’ to another room where you can do virtual activities – like playing games or showing information – while sharing physical space.
“I think those experiences are going to be awesome and that's what I want to build,” Zuckerberg said.
“And I think that probably the business model will largely be around those experiences and building the apps.
“Now, if the app store ends up being meaningful, then great.”
The tech giant currently makes most of its money through advertising, so the cultivation of an app development ecosystem to service the next generation of personal computing could allow for a more diverse revenue stream.
Facebook acquired virtual reality company Oculus in 2014 and has since gradually iterated leading edge headsets complete with an app store where people can buy VR experiences and games – but you need a Facebook account to play.
Since its Oculus acquisition, Facebook leant further into AR/VR through its purchase of startup CTRL-Labs along with the announcement of a mind-reading headset to let people control virtual objects without their hands.
Technical challenges abound for Facebook before the vision of a virtual reality future is manifest.
“The headsets right now are pretty good resolution,” he said.
“They're not quite retina resolution, but even if you could get there – which I think we will in the next few years – then you have a question about how you power real time scenes at a retina level, with a chip on the device, without basically overheating and burning people's faces.”
Competing with Apple
Zuckerberg’s interview was published shortly after fresh reports from reputable Apple source Ming-Chi Kuo about the secretive Silicon Valley company’s plans for releasing mixed and augmented reality headsets in the coming years.
The headset will be enclosed, closer to traditional VR headsets, but its cameras will let users interact with the outside world.
By 2025, Apple will be looking to unveil its full AR smart glasses, according to Kuo who said they will be a more mobile augmented reality experience in comparison to the immersivity of the mixed reality goggles.
Treading further into speculation, Kuo also said Apple was looking to develop smart contact lenses after 2030.
US startup Mojo Vision has already raised over $250 million for technology that will bring computers directly into customers’ eyeballs.
Apple’s early augmented and mixed reality headsets are expected to sell for over US$1,000 – keeping them in line with a high-end iPhone.
This is in stark contrast to the Facebook Oculus Quest 2 VR headset that retails for, at most, US$400.
Zuckerberg alluded to this price difference in the Information interview this week, saying he was focused on his products’ ubiquity.
“Unlike some of the other companies in the that basically charge premium prices as their business model, one of our core principles is we want to serve everyone,” he said.
“So I'm very focused not only on how you can create a good VR and AR device, but how do you make it so it's $300 instead of a thousand dollars – that's a pretty big deal in terms of being able to make it accessible to more people.”
Apple and Facebook have been engaging in a public feud with Apple CEO Tim Cook recently criticising the company’s flagship social media platform during a speech about Apple’s new privacy tools.
Facebook hit back, accusing Apple of deliberately interfering with its data collection and advertising business model.
Zuckerberg reportedly once told staff “we need to inflict pain” on Apple in response to a comment Cook made about Facebook in 2018.