As we head into 2022, the virtual and augmented reality industry is starting to look a little more competitive than it has in recent years. But with Apple’s approach to the market, Meta needs to change its approach to user interface and experience in VR headsets.
Since its launch in 2019, the Meta’s Quest platform has dominated the virtual reality market. But with With the announced PSVR2 specs and Apple’s VR/AR headset possibly arriving as soon as this year, the competition is on the rise.
Recent reports indicate that Apple and Meta are competing for talent, enticing their existing employees to stay while trying to attract competition.
Meta is bolstering its AR efforts after showcasing its Project AR prototype, Nazare, while also heading to release its Project Cambria headset later this year. Cambria is expected to offer high resolution color passthrough, eye and face tracking and much more.
Apple’s VR/AR headset is expected to focus on mixed reality using high-resolution color cameras, with a 300-400 gram weight range, dual 4K OLED micro displays and “MacBook M1-level performance”.
Although Meta has had the most success with the Quest platform, the expected specs for Cambria and Apple’s headset would position them more in competition with each other than with the Quest.
Both companies are essentially heading towards the next big leap forward in personal computing. As they take these next steps, it becomes increasingly important for Meta and Apple to combine state-of-the-art hardware with a seamless and intuitive user interface and experience.
Guide the user
For Apple, this is an area of expertise. Apple is known for delivering an unprecedented and seamless experience within its own ecosystem. This intuitive “walled garden” approach is both chastised and praised from a broader technology perspective, but the benefit to Apple’s user experience is undeniable.
Apple combines intelligently designed, intuitive user interfaces with a notorious “it just works” attitude to new software and features, crowned by unparalleled integration into its own device ecosystem. For most users, Apple’s software is the easiest to understand instantly – the complicated technology fades away. Apple’s interfaces are designed to be used with little instruction, either from the device or from others.
On the other side of the coin, Meta offers a very different approach to user interface and experience. Despite being one of the greatest social media platforms in history, Facebook is a cluttered and confusing mess of an interface. This is partly because the design of the site is constantly changed, redesigned and evolved to improve engagement. It’s an ongoing live experiment, always.
Sales-wise, Quest 2 was a phenomenal success and it’s now a fantastic content platform for some of the biggest VR releases. However, the core user experience mimics the Facebook design principles of confusion, evolution, and convolution.
Quest 2 runs a custom VR operating system, built around a modified version of Android. Meta has made significant improvements (both in terms of design and available features) to the operating system since the original launch of Quest in 2019. For dedicated users and those accustomed to advanced technologies, the Quest user interface makes his work.
For casual audiences though, Quest 2’s interface and user experience is often clunky, unintuitive, and confusing to navigate. Simple actions and features are often hard to find or hidden.
This came to me personally over the holiday period when I was trying to help my dad launch an app on his Quest 2. He only uses the headset once every few months, but is otherwise adept with phones, computers, and other technology platforms.
What followed was an endless series of troubleshooting questions for very basic actions. “Did you find the application menu? It’s the icon with a grid of squares. It’s on the dash, down there, see the dash? You bring it up by pressing the Oculus button. No, not that one. It’s the one that has no indentation, it’s flat, at the bottom of the face on the right joystick. Can you see the dashboard now? Alright, can you find the app? It’s in the app menu…”
For a device that can craft a whole world around you, with limitless design options, it feels less natural and more confusing to navigate than almost any other platform. Meta’s UI on Quest obscures simple actions, over-complicates the basics, and seemingly fails to guide the user around the headset.
A tale of two operating systems
The reasons for this are pretty clear – Meta doesn’t have Apple’s experience with computing platforms. Apple has been doing this for decades, Meta just over one.
Maybe some of the answers to these UI design issues will be solved with Meta’s proprietary VR/AR operating system, which is developed in-house and was, until recently, led by Mark Lucovsky (formerly of Microsoft, who is now developing an AR OS for Google).
But with Cambria coming out this year, it seems unlikely to run Meta’s proprietary OS – a continuation of the modded Android version launched for Quest seems like the safest bet..
Apple’s headset will likely feature much of the design language, features, and experience that propelled Apple to become one of the most esteemed technology companies on the planet. So if Apple’s headset comes out later this year, will Cambria’s competing user experience live up to Apple’s standards?
Apple has spent more than a decade perfecting, releasing and synergizing the design of its three major operating systems: iOS, macOS and iPad OS. The upcoming headset is rumored to run its own operating system, rOS, and job postings describe engineers working on VR/AR issues alongside Apple’s existing UI frameworks and engineering teams. system software.
Meta may have a head start in the VR/AR content wars and now seem to be focused on building their own metaverse, but Apple could easily surpass them on system software. How? ‘Or’ What? Let’s speculate on the hypothetical user experience offered by Apple’s next headset, based on the company’s existing products and features spanning the ecosystem.
The (hypothetical) Apple headset experience
Like most Apple devices, the headset will likely automatically pair with your account when placed near another Apple device you own, eliminating the need for nearly any user setup. This would automatically connect the headset to your existing Wi-Fi networks, Bluetooth and Apple devices, and iCloud account.
Likewise, the headphones would instantly connect to your accessories, like AirPods, right out of the box. Screenshots or video recordings taken in VR or Mixed Reality will likely be automatically uploaded to iCloud, ensuring easy access from other non-VR devices. It wouldn’t be surprising to see other Apple services, like AirDrop or AirPlay, also being integrated at launch.
While all of the above is hypothetical, it’s not necessarily unlikely – newer Apple devices tend to fit seamlessly into the ecosystem. Ecosystem features like AirDrop and auto-pairing are standard fare on every new Apple device.
Many of these features are already available on Quest, some in a different or much less convenient way. However, the way Apple combines intuitive design with practical functionality is what matters. The average consumer doesn’t have to look far to AirDrop a photo from one device to another – it’s just a button press or two at any time. On Quest 2, moving screenshot from headset to phone or computer is unclear and tedious every step of the way. For ease of use and intuitive design, it’s still apples and oranges, even counting recent improvements on the Meta side.
If Cambria launches with such a low level of user experience, then shipping Apple’s headset with AirDrop and other ecosystem staples would set it up to outperform Meta in several areas almost overnight. the following day.
A fruitful opportunity
Meta has arguably purchased and developed an impressive content library and feature set, but lacks the experience to leverage it as part of an effective integrated platform. At launch, the reverse might be true for Apple’s headphones.
Both headsets aim higher than a gaming market – they’re the next generation of personal computing. If Meta wants to compete with Apple at this level, it will have to adapt and make some serious changes – and soon.
A clear and intuitive user experience becomes more and more crucial as virtual reality reaches a wider audience. Apple joining the fray should present the industry with some much-needed competition in this department — hopefully Meta bites back.