It was always going to get a bit messy. In answering questions from employees at a recent Meta meeting, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg has made it clear that he’s fully aware that the two tech giants are about to butt heads big style on the battleground of the metaverse.
All the evidence is there already, of course. Meta’s dominance in VR headsets such as the popular Quest and upcoming Cambria will soon be questioned by Apple’s much rumoured, but still top secret AR (and possibly VR) headset which could be announced as soon as September this year.
The two companies haven’t seen eye to eye ever, of course with last year’s moves to allow iOS users to skip the ad tracking that Facebook needs to make its money putting a dent into the social media giant’s earnings.
And more fundamentally Apple’s culture of privacy and non-intrusion into what its users are using their hardware, software and services for is directly at odds with Meta and Facebook’s desire to know everything so that they can best sell you what it thinks you want.
Not forgetting Apple’s famously closed eco-system where they pride themselves on keeping a lockdown on the combination of hardware and software with only heavily vetted apps (which stick to their rules and pays them their dues) being allowed on their app store. This, versus Meta’s recent attempts to collude with the broader burgeoning metaverse world to create metaverse open standards so that everyone can play together. Standards that – at least so far – Apple have not signed up for.
Ready… Set… Fight!
Thus the stage is set for the two giants to propose and operate directly rivaling hardware and services with – potentially – only one winner at the end of the day. And Zuckerberg knows it.
In a recorded transcript obtained by The Verge, Zuckerberg tells his troops “I think it’s pretty clear that Apple is going to be a competitor for us, not just as a product but philosophically. We’re approaching this in an open way and trying to build a more open ecosystem.”
“We’re trying to develop the metaverse in a way where you can bring your virtual goods from one world to another. We created the Metaverse Open Standards Group with a bunch of other folks and Apple didn’t join. But I don’t think that’s a surprise. Apple, for a few generations of computing now, has been the closed provider of computing.
“This is a competition of philosophies and ideas, where they believe that by doing everything themselves and tightly integrating that they build a better consumer experience. And we believe that there is a lot to be done in specialization across different companies, and [that] will allow a much larger ecosystem to exist.”
Zuckerberg is essentially out lining a pretty simple premise. Apple will seek to control everything in and around their metaverse (and whatever appears on their headset when it breaks cover) while Meta are being more free and easy about who can come on board and what its audience will be exposed to. By letting down the barriers it’s obvious that one metaverse has the potential to be much fuller and more useful than the other. This perhaps at the expense of a little user experience and quality as all parties – good, bad or even bad acting – pile on and do their thing. And that’s the Facebook/internet/Meta way.
But Zuckerberg admits that he doesn’t yet know which is best. “One of the things I think is interesting is that it’s not really clear upfront whether an open or closed ecosystem is going to be better,” he says.
“I just don’t think that the future is written here yet for the metaverse,” he goes on. “We’re doing VR. We’re doing AR. We basically deliver our devices at cost or at a slight subsidy, or slightly more than cost in some cases. But the bottom line is our business is not primarily taking a premium on the devices. We want as many people to be interacting in there as possible. Part of that is having it be an open ecosystem that’s interoperable,” he went on.
A philosophical difference
And that’s the crux of the Meta Vs Apple battle: Just as with its iPhones, iPads, Macs and more, Apple will make its money from its no-doubt pricey headset and a healthy cut of the services it sells there. Meta on the other hand barely breaks even on the hardware and so is 100% reliant on making sales. Hence the potential intrusion of privacy and (for want of a better word) ‘quest’ to get as many partners as possible on board.
“Our north star is ‘can we get a billion people into the metaverse doing hundreds of dollars apiece in digital commerce by the end of the decade?’ If we do that, we’ll build a business that is as big as our current ad business within this decade. I think a big part of how you do that is by pushing the open metaverse forward, which is what we’re going to do,” Zuckerberg explains.
“Apple is going to be a competitor. It’s actually a very deep competitor. It’s not just [that] they have a device that has some more features than us. It’s a very deep, philosophical competition about what direction the internet should go in.”
Like Mac Vs PC, iOS Vs Android, PlayStation Vs Xbox, the metaverse is looking like just another battleground that we’ll all find ourselves fighting on. May the best company win.