There is an easy to way to write this Article, and a hard way.
This weekend the easy way seemed within reach: I watched Meta’s Connect Keynote (I had early access in order to prepare for an interview with Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella) and was, like apparently much of the Internet, extremely underwhelmed. Sure, the new Quest Pro looked cool, and I was very excited about the partnership with Microsoft (more on both in a moment); the presentation, though, was cringe, and seemed to lack any compelling demos of virtual reality.
What was particularly concerning was the entire first half of the keynote, which was primarily focused on consumer applications, including Horizon Worlds; Horizon Worlds was the the app The Verge reported was so buggy that Meta employees working on it barely used it, or more worryingly, was buggy because Meta employees couldn’t be bothered to dogfood it. The concerning part from the keynote was you could see why.
That was why this Article was going to be easy: writing that Meta’s metaverse wasn’t very compelling would slot right in to most people’s mental models, prompting likes and retweets instead of skeptical emails; arguing that Meta should focus on its core business would appeal to shareholders concerned about the money and attention devoted to a vision they feared was unrealistic. Stating that Zuckerberg got it wrong would provide comfortable distance from not just an interview subject but also a company that I have defended in its ongoing dispute with Apple over privacy and advertising.
Indeed, you can sense my skepticism in the most recent episode of Sharp Tech, which was recorded after seeing the video but before trying the Quest Pro. See, that was the turning point: I was really impressed, and that makes this Article much harder to write.
Meetings in VR
I wrote about virtual reality and the Metaverse a number of times last year, including August’s Metaverses, Meta’s keynote and name-change in October, and Microsoft and the Metaverse in November. The most important post though, at least in terms of my conception of the space, was this August Update about Horizon Workrooms (not to be confused with the aforementioned Horizon Worlds):
My personal experience with Workrooms didn’t involve any dancing or fitness; it was simply a conversation with the folks that built Workrooms. The sense of presence, though, was tangible. Voices came from the right place, thanks to Workrooms’ spatial audio, and hand gestures and viewing directions really made it feel like the three of us were in the same room. What was particularly compelling was the way that Workrooms’ virtual reality space seamlessly interfaced with the real world…