Apple or Meta May Determine the Future of the Metaverse

It's a battle of philosophies

  • Smartphones are yesterday’s news, and many think the metaverse is the future.
  • Meta and Apple are both big players in the future of mixed and virtual reality.
  • Both are set to take different approaches, one privacy-focused, the other aiming for interoperability with some data collection on the side.
A metaverse concept image of someone wearing VR glasses and interacting with a virtual world.

Weiquan Lin / Getty Images

As Apple and Meta clash over what the metaverse will look like, the next couple of years are when the future of virtual and augmented reality will be shaped—for better or worse.

Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg knows that. He's already telling Meta staffers that the company is on a collision course with Apple over what he says is "a competition of philosophies and ideas," stopping short of saying what that means. He did suggest that Meta wants "a much larger ecosystem" than Apple, but what that translates to is very different if the past is any indication.

"Zuckerberg believes that the metaverse is essentially a VR space. That's because the business model requires building an alternative reality in which things can be sold," PC Pro contributing editor and IT professional Jon Honeyball told Lifewire via email. For that reason, he's "terrified" because Apple has already "put a substantial hole in the side of Meta revenues because of [its] non-negotiable position on advertising."

All the Eyes, All the Ads, All the Time

Much like Google isn't just a search company anymore, Meta isn't just a social network company. It was once, but now its business is selling ads against content. Whether that content is your friend's photos of their kids or a news article about global warming, Meta makes its money by selling ads that promote businesses. And to do that, it needs data—lots of it.

"Apple wants your money. Meta wants your data," said Job van der Voort, CEO and co-founder of tech company Remote via Twitter. That's a fact that could put Apple and Meta on a collision course.

Apple prefers to keep companies like Meta at arm's length. Reports claim that Apple's recent iOS tracking changes cost Meta $10 billion in 2022 because it couldn't get the information it needed to sell well-performing ads. With that in mind, and with Zuckerberg very much bullish on the metaverse, you don't need to look too hard to see why he might want Apple's approach to be the exception rather than the rule.

Zuckerberg's comments came in a meeting with employees in which he also said that "it's not really clear upfront whether an open or closed ecosystem is going to be better." But it appears unlikely that Meta will be able to collect as much data from Apple's mixed reality headset as it would from its own or others like it. And that's key for a company still reeling from the last time Apple's privacy focus put a gaping hole in its hull.

Which of the two approaches dominates remains to be seen. Apple is expected to have a $3,000 headset ready for early 2023, but that is unlikely to be a mass market device given its price. Little is known about the headset's capabilities. But it's the philosophies that count here—where Apple leads, others tend to follow. And if the metaverse is going to be the next big frontier, this is a crucial battleground, not just for Apple and Meta, but for everyone.

Someone wearing a VR headset in a city setting.

Suriyapong Thongsawang / Getty Images

Walled Garden Vs. Open Standards

Privacy and control do come at a cost. Meta is a part of the Metaverse Open Standards Group. Microsoft is another participant, with Apple a notable absentee. The group aims to build standards for the metaverse as a whole, allowing for interoperability the likes of which Apple will never offer. Which is the better approach?

If that question sounds familiar, it's because it is. We've been here before—Mac Vs. Windows, iOS Vs. Android. If the next battleground is to be in virtual and mixed reality, the tech world seems destined for the same argument it's been having for decades.

But Honeyball has a warning—things might not be as they seem: "Zuckerberg does not want everything to be open. He is desperate for it to have a veneer of openness to keep the regulators at bay."

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