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Meta’s Horizon OS opening could mean cheaper VR headsets

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  • 7 min read

If you want a standalone VR headset today, Apple’s Vision Pro and Meta’s Quest 3 are two of your best options. While the former excels in its AR/VR experience and build quality, Quest 3 is one of the most versatile headsets on the market and can do almost everything, whether you’re using it on its own or hooking it up to your PC.

Meta announced on April 22 that Meta Horizon OS — the OS powering Meta’s Quest headsets will now be available to third-party hardware makers. The announcement added that Asus’ Republic of Gamers (ROG), Lenovo, and even Xbox have already partnered with the social media giant turned VR headset maker in an attempt to build their headsets.

This seems like a win-win situation at first. More companies being able to make VR headsets will lead to many more options in the market — a lot like how Android enabled just about everyone with the capacity to manufacture smartphones to enter the competition. However, with Apple dialled in on its AR/VR world version, we might see a duality appear in the VR world where Apple and its slick but proprietary software compete against a sea of manufacturers making different headsets powered by the same OS.

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Meta vs Apple: Another OS war?

As mentioned, Meta has announced that Asus, Lenovo, and Xbox are already working on VR headsets powered by Horizon OS. Asus is focusing on a performance gaming headset, Lenovo is working to develop mixed reality devices for productivity, learning, and entertainment, and last but not least, Xbox has partnered with Meta to launch a limited-edition Xbox-inspired Meta Quest.

Quest 3’s Horizon OS is now available for third-party manufacturers. | Source: Meta

This means we’re going to see headsets specialising in productivity, gaming, or entertainment in the future, giving consumers more options to better suit their needs. While the Meta Quest 3’s $499 price tag is justifiable for what the headset brings to the table, we could see budget headsets offering the same software experience in the future. All this makes Apple’s Vision Pro a tough sell, especially at its $3,499 retail price.

Anyone who has tried the Vision Pro will tell you that it’s very much meant to be used as a separate device. This means that Apple needs to ensure strong app support, and while it has made many promises, developers seem to have a hard time catching up. Despite Apple announcing over 600 apps for the Vision Pro in February this year, there’s still a significant “app gap” between the Vision Pro and the iPhone you’re possibly using to read this.

Meta and Xbox are partnering to create an Xbox-inspired, limited edition Quest 3. | Source: Meta

That’s where Meta has the advantage. Horizon OS is Android-based, so developers will have a much easier time porting their existing applications to Horizon OS than building them from scratch for the Vision Pro. Meta is also pushing to make its app ecosystem as expansive as possible, making it easy to transition from App Lab to the Meta Horizon store. This lets developers who meet basic technical requirements ship an app for the platform rather easily. There’s also a new spatial app framework in the works that

In Meta’s words, “We don’t restrict users to titles from our own app store.” Services like Xbox Game Pass Ultimate can be accessed on the headset, in addition to Steam Link, which lets PC gamers play PC games in VR on any Quest headset using nothing but a USB-C cable (or a fast WiFi network if you happen to have one).

We don’t restrict users to titles from our own app store.

-Meta

Meta has also ‘encouraged’ the Google Play app store to come to the platform and operate with the “same economic model.” If you have any doubts, Meta refers to the same Google Play app store you use on your Android. Should Google decide to proceed with this, millions of Android apps would be accessible on Horizon OS and by extension, any headset using the OS.

On the other hand, Apple is known for its rather restricted “walled garden.” Apps on the Apple App Store undergo much tougher scrutiny before they’re available to the general public. While that ensures that the quality of apps across the board is better, it also means fewer apps come to the App Store. That said, only two players in the smartphone space are Apple and Android. This means most mainstream apps eventually do find their way on both platforms.

Horizon OS is poised to have superior app support compared to Apple’s Vision Pro. | Source: Meta

If Meta commits to Horizon OS and maintains it with timely updates and feature additions in the future, we can see a similar situation arise where low- to midrange VR headsets will use Horizon OS and all its benefits while flagship headsets compete with the Vision Pro. To put it in simpler terms, just like the smartphone world is dominated by Android and Apple, the VR headset space will be dominated by Meta and Apple.

Meta’s decision is also rather well-timed. Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo reports that Apple has cut its 2024 Vision Pro shipments to 400,000 – 450,000 for 2024 — a massive reduction from the previous market consensus of 700,000 to 800,000 units.

The cut comes as Apple prepares to launch the Vision Pro in non-US markets, indicating that demand for the Vision Pro in the US has fallen sharply, forcing the iPhone maker to take a conservative stance going forward. This can also mean we might not get a follow-up version of the Vision Pro in 2025 as previously expected, as Apple expects demand to fall further in 2025.

Photo: Ringo Chiu / Shutterstock.com
Demand for the Vision Pro has fallen sharply. | Photo: Ringo Chiu / Shutterstock.com

The Vision Pro is an excellent VR headset that does a lot for the VR space. It’s well-built, in typical Apple fashion, and the software works wonders, at least as long as you don’t look for apps you would otherwise be able to use on the Quest 3. Besides the lack of key apps on the Vision Pro app store, the headset must also address its high price tag and comfort issues. With more competitors about to enter the scene, it will be an uphill battle for Apple.

What does this mean for the average VR headset user?

For once, good news. Just like Android allowed more manufacturers to start making smartphones meeting all budgets and requirements, Horizon OS has the potential to do the same for VR headsets.

This means we’ll soon see headsets matching all sorts of budgets and specialising for different requirements while offering a centralised app store and software experience. With Snapdragon’s Qualcomm XR2 Gen 2 platform also launching alongside the Quest 3, giving manufacturers hardware options to power their headsets, there’s a good chance we’ll see VR headsets go through roughly the same cycle Android smartphones did, and that’s not a bad thing.

Regardless, this gives you more options as a consumer, both in terms of price and features. If Horizon OS continues bringing more updates and features, there’s a good chance that more PC hardware or smartphone manufacturers will enter the VR space. In case you haven’t already, it will be an exciting time to get into VR.

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Yadullah Abidi

Yadullah Abidi

Yadullah is a Computer Science graduate who writes/edits/shoots/codes all things cybersecurity, gaming, and tech hardware. When he's not, he streams himself racing virtual cars. He's been writing and reporting on tech and cybersecurity with websites like Candid.Technology and MakeUseOf since 2018. You can contact him here: yadullahabidi@pm.me.

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