Mark Zuckerberg says Meta will offer its virtual reality OS to hardware companies

Meta founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks during the Meta Connect event at Meta headquarters in Menlo Park, California, on Sept. 27, 2023.

Josh Edelson | AFP | Getty Images

Meta will partner with external hardware companies, including Lenovo, Microsoft and Asus, to build virtual reality headsets using the company’s Meta Horizon operating system, the company said Monday.

The move will create new hardware devices that run on the same operating system and software as Meta’s current first-party virtual reality hardware, such as the Quest 3 and Quest Pro.

The move further defines the fault lines of the virtual reality hardware market, months after Apple released its $3,500 virtual reality headset called Vision Pro in January.

According to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who shared the news in an Instagram video Monday, the announcement essentially recreates the Android versus iOS dynamic in smartphones — only for virtual reality headsets. Apple’s VR product will remain pricier, and vertically integrated, but it will have to compete against a range of different hardware devices at various prices, all running atop Meta’s operating system.

“In every era of computing, there are always open and closed models,” Zuckerberg said. “With phones, Apple’s closed model basically won out. Phones are tightly controlled, and you’re locked into what they’ll let you do. But it doesn’t have to be this way.”

The decision to make its operating system available to hardware partners also lines up with Meta’s stated strategic reasoning for spending billions of dollars per quarter on virtual reality technology inside its Reality Labs division. In the fourth quarter of 2023, Meta reported an operating loss of $4.65 billion in the division on $1 billion in sales.

For years, Meta has chafed against Apple’s App Store rules. Zuckerberg has said that the company is trying to develop a next-generation platform in virtual and augmented reality, with a Meta-controlled app store, so that Apple can’t reject its apps or charge fees. Meta’s plan to offer an operating system platform is the culmination of years of internal investment.

“Our goal is to make it said the open model defines the next generation of computing again with the metaverse, glasses and headsets,” Zuckerberg said.

Zuckerberg also asked Google to bring its Google Play app store to Horizon-based headsets. He said that Meta would also allow Steam and Microsoft’s Xbox Cloud Gaming to run on its operating system. Meta Horizon is based on a version of Android, allowing for easier ports of apps from phones to virtual reality.

“If they’re up for it, our philosophy is that we want you to be able to run the content on Quest or any Meta Horizon operating system headset,” Zuckerberg said.

Meta did not detail the business arrangements with its hardware partners nor its business model for the software. In the case of Google’s Android operating system for phones, it offers the software for free and monetizes its research and development through directing user searches to Google, selling ads alongside those searches. Sometimes, Google pays hardware partners.

Meta says that opening up its operating system to hardware partners will enable them to create specific kinds of hardware for different markets, such as gaming and productivity, or even a device built for low weight. Zuckerberg imagined a device that may “come out of the box with Xbox controllers,” for example. Meta said it would create a version of its Quest headset “inspired” by Xbox. Zuckerberg said it may take a “couple of years” for the new devices to hit the market.

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