Meta announced it’s licensing its XR operating system to select OEMs in a bid to become a more open alternative to Vision Pro, marking a monumental shift in the company’s XR strategy. This puts Meta in an entirely new position as a platform holder, as it now seems the company is trying to beat Google at its own game. And you know what, it just might win.

It’s a tale as old as time. Apple vs. Microsoft. Apple vs. Google. Now, it seems Meta wants to be the subject of the next chapter in ‘A Tale of Two Platforms’, this time dedicated to the next phase in popularizing XR.

We’re not there yet, as Meta hasn’t said just how ‘open’ its platform will be, or how it envisions licensing Horizon OS (ex-Quest OS) to third-parties beyond ASUS, Lenovo and Xbox at this point. But being the ‘open’ foil to Apple’s closed garden approach is at least the narrative the company is running with for now, which feels like the company’s best bet to shift away from its own very Apple-like behavior, and bringing its Horizon Store (ex-Quest Store) to non-Quest headsets for the first time.

There are a ton of uncertainties now, but it seems Meta is looking to out-Google Google with its recent move to provide software to OEMs like Google does with its Android mobile platform, and Google may not be able to catch up anytime soon.

Google: Keep on Daydreaming

After having abandoned its ill-fated standalone XR platform Daydream in 2019, Google took a giant step back from VR that it never quite recovered from. While Meta was releasing Quest, Quest 2, Quest Pro and its latest, the Quest 3 mixed reality headset, Google was working on AR glasses, which, you guessed it, they also canned amid layoffs, reshuffles, and the departure of Clay Bavor from the company, Google’s then-head of AR and VR.

Lenovo Mirage Solo from 2018 | Photo by Road to VR

There is a possible redemption arc in the making, although it’s anyone’s guess if Google can use it to leverage Android to serve XR as broadly as Meta aims to do with Horizon OS, which is a modified version of Android in itself.

Google announced early last year it was providing software to Samsung to make a Vision Pro competitor, although we haven’t heard anything about it, or its Android XR platform since. Whatever Samsung and Google release, one clearly valuable asset Google hasn’t weaponized so far in XR is its Play store, which could make whatever device it launches on much more competitive to Vision Pro by giving it access to millions of Android apps—something Meta claims Google simply won’t allow on Quest after a reported series of failed talks.

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Horizon OS: Not Exactly Open, But Certainly Prolific

Meanwhile, Meta has also made it clear it’s going to continue producing Quest to showcase its hardware and software advancements, and likely use it as an anchor to the more specialized Horizon OS devices Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg envisions in the near future.

Zuckerberg outlined so much in his most recent video announcement, stating he expects there to be a fleet of third-party headsets “designed for specific use cases.”

“You can imagine a light weight headset that pairs with your computer on your desk to provide the best work experience, whether you’re at home or anywhere else you go,” Zuckerberg said in the video. “Or you can imagine one that’s fully focused on watching immersive entertainment like movies and videos with the highest resolution and OLED screens, or think of one that’s fully optimized for gaming, sports or all kinds of different peripherals and haptics. Imagine one for exercise that extra-light, sweat-wicking materials. Or maybe just a version that comes out of the box with Xbox controller and Game Pass, and you can immediately start playing on a big screen anywhere you go.”

With such a wide gamut of devices to choose from, Meta could even position Quest to be its very own Google Pixel, i.e. a high-quality device that’s largely thought of as the ‘purest’, most ideal form the OS has to offer, and which also gets preferential treatment from the platform holder.

Then there’s the lingering question of how open is Meta really willing to go with Horizon OS. For now, the company has leaned hard on its ability to sideload apps via SideQuest, stream PC VR games via Steam Link or Air Link, and stream Xbox Game Pass Ultimate—but didn’t mention anything about open source, root access, etc. As much as it pains me to say so, most people don’t really care about those last two, and it’s something Meta is probably betting on too.

This essentially leaves Google in a bit of a sticky wicket. Either make peace with Meta and bring Play store apps to Horizon OS, or go its own route with Samsung. And either decision leaves in the backseat.

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Well before the first modern XR products hit the market, Scott recognized the potential of the technology and set out to understand and document its growth. He has been professionally reporting on the space for nearly a decade as Editor at Road to VR, authoring more than 3,500 articles on the topic. Scott brings that seasoned insight to his reporting from major industry events across the globe.
  • xyzs

    I hope they will clean up the global consistency now they settled on a new official OS.

    -The UX needs more consistency, consistent names, consistent options, etc.
    -The prefix in the OS APIs and functions should now share a consistent one (Ex: hos_ ) everywhere.
    -The proper websites urls and names. (Ex: the store is still has Quest in the url while it’s not true anymore from now.)

    You want Horizon to be the Windows of XR, don’t be as technically disgusting and unpolished at least…

  • Christian Schildwaechter

    Problems for Horizon OS:

    – Most companies’ new XR interest is about copying AVP, targeting hand/eye tracking based media and productivity use, not Meta’s low margin device, gaming user base.
    – Meta announced a new spatial app framework, but is playing UI/UX catch-up with a bad track record. Copying AVP requires access to 2D apps Meta doesn’t have.
    – Few people interested in AVP would consider a Quest instead. Horizon OS’s real competition is AndroidXR, based on Google’s existing Android app and 3bn active user base, giving Google a huge network effect advantage.
    – Horizon OS seems less open than AndroidXR, and Google doesn’t sell XR HMDs at cost, making AndroidXR more attractive to manufacturers. They partnered with Samsung, the largest seller of Android phones.
    – Daydream as Google’s attempt to bring the Android model to VR failed partly because manufacturers couldn’t make a profit with Meta selling hardware at cost. Horizon OS HMDs now face the same problem.
    – Quest 3 already uses the fastest SoC available for XR, so Horizon OS licensees can’t compete based on performance either.
    – Both Horizon OS and AndroidXR won’t be usable in China, so someone (e.g. Qualcomm/Goertek/Pico) will probably release a less restricted SDK that could beat both.
    – Meta’s main advantage is the large software library, but OpenXR now allows to easily port apps.
    – Much depends on how well AndroidXR turns out. Overall Google is positioned better and good at SDK and UI design. IMHO Daydream’s interface beat Gear VR/Oculus Go.

    • Cl

      If quest3 had oled displays and better passthrough it would be exactly like AVP, but can do more. All it would require is google to allow android apps on it and someone could make a AVP like headset.

      “Quest 3 already uses the fastest SoC available for XR, so Horizon OS licensees can’t compete based on performance either.” They would also be using the same chips as the quest. Not sure what you mean by this.

      • ViRGiN

        I’d say q3 to be avp would need eye+hand tracking implementation as that’s really the only magic sauce they have outside ecosystem. If Meta could achieve Persona level avatars and drive them within apps that use Meta avatars, that would be the first real step to “metaverse” for masses. I think lots of distant families would get one if they could see their real faces while doing something fun like golf, poker etc.
        Displays and lenses will naturally only get better.

      • Christian Schildwaechter

        If Quest 3 had microOLED displays and better passthrough and the very fast M2 and R1 and multiple depth sensors and a dozen cameras and extra sensors and eye tracking and a decent UI/UX using it, it would still not be like AVP. “All it would require is Google to allow” is equal to “all it would require is the miracle of Google giving up its main advantage for free”. That’s not going to happen, and neither will Meta cave in and willingly hand over all their software revenue and user data to Google.

        My comment on the SoC is referring to brands like Asus usually competing by price or feature, with gaming laptops featuring better GPUs, PSUs, display etc.. But with the XR market being so small, there is no freely available dedicated SoC faster than the one used in Quest 3, so Asus cannot offer a higher margin enthusiast Horizon OS HMD with more performance than Quest 3, and they can’t beat it on price. At best they could create an HMD with a large battery at the back, providing enough power and counter balance to allow for more/heavier active cooling, improving performance somewhat this way.

        • XRC

          Could Asus provide an overclocked variant with suitable cooling?

          (Providing a small hardware difference to justify a higher price point, along with ergonomic improvements)

          • MeowMix

            there’s literally the XR2+Gen2, the same chip that is assumed the Google headset will use.

          • XRC

            Is there headroom for further performance? But with Qualcomm there could be issues about actual performance like this reported by Tom’s hardware:

            “The notoriously confrontational tech site SemiAccurate claims that Qualcomm is cheating on the benchmarks of its new Snapdragon X Elite and Plus laptop processors, and Qualcomm has now responded to those accusations”.

          • Christian Schildwaechter

            [Very long and speculative]

            Sort of. Qualcomm usually upgrades their top SoC with a plus version adding ~10% performance based on process optimizations a year after launch. A XR2+ Gen 2 is expected to be used in the Google/Samsung HMD, and should be available to Asus/Lenovo too. I also suspect that Meta seriously underclocks the CPU on Quest 3 to gain thermal head room for the GPU. SD8 Gen 2 uses a 1/2/2/4 high performance/performance/efficiency/low power core config, while XR2 Gen 2 apparently drops the high/low cores most useful for burst/idle, and instead uses 2/4 performance/efficiency cores for sustained loads. Interestingly these performance/efficiency cores run at 2.8GHz on SD8 Gen 2, but Meta lists only 2.05GHz for CPU and 1.6GHz for GPU heavy apps on Quest 3, meaning at least the CPU part could run a lot faster with proper cooling.

            DISCLAIMER: the following is pure speculation on my part, I’ve seen neither rumors nor hints that Asus/Lenovo might consider something like that, I just extrapolated what is technically feasible.

            Asus/Lenovo could release one HMD build by Lenovo for both (to save cost) with slightly varying configurations, using a HTC Focus 3 like headmount with a large battery. This allows for heavier components and more cooling, so an XR2+ Gen 2 could run with a less throttled CPU. Heat is a mayor issue for Quest, with the SoCs getting more power hungry and the very wasteful pancakes now requiring much brighter/hotter displays. Quest Pro had to use two coolers, one behind each display with a heat pipe to the SoC, so any improvement in cooling should help with performance, incl. allowing the CPU to run at full speed.

            A faster CPU wouldn’t directly increase graphics performance, but ETFR on Quest Pro was limited by the available CPU performance. An ASUS/Lenovo HMD with eye tracking could use the extra compute for ETFR to drive higher resolution displays, e.g. 2.5K like in Focus 3/Beyond. Compared to Quest Pro, the newer SoC and a higher CPU clock should enable bigger performance gains from the ETFR already implemented in Horizon OS. This could allow running apps/games at a much higher resolution than on Quest 3 while still relying on pretty much the same GPU, with only a minor speed bump from the plus version. The impact could be significant. According to Meta, ETFR on the CPU limited Quest Pro offers ~49%-82% more FPS, while Sony claims up to 257% FPS increase on the less constrained PS5/PSVR2.

            Maybe Lenovo would go with a slighly resolution for productivity, while Asus focuses more on frame rates. There would be a number of ways like more RAM, hot-swappable battery or charging stations for Pro use to differentiate between the two, allowing Lenovo to sell their’s at e.g. USD 1500, similar to what is expected for the Google/Samsung HMD, while Asus could keep it below USD 1000 for the enthusiasts. This would be beneficial for Meta too, as they could focus on a cheap Quest 3 lite for the mass market, the affordable Quest 3 for established VR gamers, while still having options beside their own ill-fated Quest Pro to develop Horizon OS with a new eye tracking based UI towards an AVP competitor, making the 3rd party HMDs test beds for a Quest 4.

            Again, just wild speculation based on what could be feasible and might make some sense for the involved companies.

          • perVRt

            Your sus is very interesting that “Meta seriously underclocks the CPU on Quest 3 to gain thermal head room for the GPU”. If true, this a going to be a fatal flaw when some other device gives developers more CPU which is one of the biggest bottlenecks in mobile VR, because GPU eye-candy does not sell more devices.

          • Christian Schildwaechter

            This fatal flaw is probably a feature. Meta slides comparing Quest 3 performance to Quest 2 show a 100%-150% boost for the GPU, but only 16% more CPU in GPU heavy apps like games. This by design limits Quest 3 to games with similar complexity regarding physics, NPCs and others as the Quest 2.

            People expected Quest 3 to replace Quest 2, but Meta keeps selling them in parallel. The USD 200 Quest 2 still significantly outsells the newer model at a 150% premium, which acts as an enthusiast model, running the same games with better visuals, not intended to replace the mass market model. This makes both part of the same generation, similar to PS4 and PS4 Pro.

            Graphics are much easier to scale up without breaking a game than changing the physics simulation, or the number of NPCs running around, so differentiation based only on graphics performance makes sense. By postponing CPU performance/game complexity improvements until a new generation arrives with Quest 4, developers won’t waste resources on new games that couldn’t run on the Quest 2 (Quest 3 lite) making up most of the install base, while extra features on low number 3rd party Horizon OS HMDs will only be used for non-game niche applications.

          • perVRt

            Of course Meta cannot change that CPU to GPU ratio within their own product lines, so their fatal flaw is that developers should flock to a competitor’s device gives more CPU for the same chips that everybody is using.

        • Cl

          Ok ill add eye tracking to the list of things it would need. Those other things you mention is included in the “better passthrough”.

          Google would still get their cut if playstore was added. It’s not much different from what meta just did with allowing third party’s to use the horizon os. It’s not really needed imo because if the only reason you wanted playstore was for 2d productivity apps, then streaming from pc would be better anyway.

          • Christian Schildwaechter

            Meta offered Google to keep the 30% from all 2D apps Play store sales on Quest. Google answered “Muahaha, if you want Play store, ALL app sales go through us, including all XR apps”. Google said they’d love to cooperate and invited Meta to use AndroidXR, all Meta’d have to accept are forced Play services and Play store, giving Google all the sales. Meta countered by saying they are absolutely willing to let Google publish on Quest, all Google has to agree to is Meta keeping the XR app sales from all the Horizon OS HMDs, with Google only getting the 2D sales.

            Obviously both offers were rejected. This is about control of the XR software market, not a few bucks from 2D app sales on Quest. XR is expected to extend/replace smartphones, 2D apps are only needed for a transition phase, native XR apps where all the money will be. Meta hoped to grow Quest fast enough so developers would create XR replacement of important Android apps. That didn’t work out, so now Google and Apple will leverage their stores to offset Meta’s existing XR library. Peace was never an option, and neither is PC streaming.

          • Cl

            I only mention the 2d apps because you said “Copying AVP requires access to 2D apps Meta doesn’t have.”

            Now you say it doesn’t matter, so I guess it doesnt.

          • Christian Schildwaechter

            I said they matter only for the transitioning phase, but Quest cannot simply skip that one, just like we can’t skip childhood. You have to go through the transition to get to a (hopefully) mature and useful state.

            On AVP most 2D apps just work. Some need minor adaptions, some will be used enough to justify major optimizations, some even see re-implementations for the new interface. This will go on for many years. How people actually use XR will drive investment/effort, with most apps never adapted for XR.

            The moment browser based solutions for YouTube and Netflix popped up on AVP, Quest users immediately asked for similar replacements of the neglected YouTube and Netflix apps. That should have been possible for years, but in contrast to “there’s an app for that” phones, Quest stayed a special purpose device due to gamers and game devs attracting each other, with a few niches like fitness, painting or guided meditation. Without a base to transition existing use cases from, Quest will remain stuck with a mostly gaming library. Only the most popular XR apps from visionOS/AndroidXR will see delayed ports to Quest, driving regular users to these platforms.

      • foamreality

        Meta doesn’t need google’s permission to put android apps in its own android app store. Just like amazon did with their tablet. Devs will come flocking if the revenue split is also smaller. Eventually meta may become the default app store for phone manufacturers. Google is going nowhere with androidXR. Its not needed and google has no VR games. Everything else meta can do without them. Push notifications is complicated but not impossible without google services, see microG (open source implementation of google services)

    • xyzs

      Dude, all you talk about is theory theory and more theory.

      Problems for Android XR:

      – Does Android XR have a tracking system (including hands) as performant as HorizonOS ?
      – Do you think people who already spent hundred of dollars in apps for the quest/horizon store want to lose them switching to Android XR.
      – Do you think Google has any leverage in the XR field, when it was just absent for years.
      – Don’t you think Meta’s exclusive titles don’t weight for newcomers when Google has none?
      – Don’t you know that Google is famous for killing projects overnight if they don’t turn out to be a great profitable success – I would never bet on Android XR – AT ALL – just for that…
      – Do you think competition will create hardware that can compete or even beat with Meta’s hardware in terms of attractivity/price so easily ?
      – You say OpenXR make it easy to port for a similar platform, same goes the other way around. It’s even easier to put a Google play Android app in the Horizon Store.

      And I probably miss some many more points showing how Android XR is far from winning here.

      • Christian Schildwaechter

        You missed that nobody tries to copy Quest, or cares about less than 10mn active Quest users, existing libraries or exclusive games. Quest never growing to Zuckerberg’s self-sustainable 10mn is the problem: it’s not attractive for hardware manufacturers or software developers, and gives Meta no leverage when negotiating for Play store access.

        How long it takes to catch up to Meta’s headstart depends. They’ll leave the low cost gaming market to Meta and stick to the higher (margin) end, targeting 3bn Android users wanting to use existing apps in XR too. The template is AVP seamlessly integrating with phones, something Meta cannot replicate. Not for technical, but for legal and small install base reasons. How AndroidXR will compete in games is hard to tell. A lack of controllers could make making porting unfeasible. There are many thousand Android game developers, but interest depends on how fast user the base grows based on media and productivity. It will take years for prices to drop enough.

        A bigger problem for AndroidXR could be Chinese companies, using a free OpenXR stack/spatial framework for very cheap devices using low cost SoCs, useful only for regular apps plus watching movies or fitness etc., cutting Google out of the deal.

        • perVRt

          The bigger problem for AndroidXR (and Ho-OS) are covered by the legal system that effectively bans superior devices and user interfaces from America. Just look at what happened to Pico and their parent company that operates under the legal system of Singapore. These US companies may be sorry they got what they wished for if TikTok gets sold off to a competing American company.

    • Well, let me be the devil’s advocate. Horizon OS has:
      – A much more interesting content library. Meta has some exclusive popular titles that others do not have. Plus while it’s true that OpenXR facilitates the porting of apps, supporting multiple platforms still requires an effort, so devs will prioritize the most successful ones (and Meta Quest is on top)
      – An OS who has been on the market for years. There are a lot of bad things with the Quest OS, starting from UX, but at least it is a product that has been on the market for years, and has been iterated from the feedback of millions of users. Google has to start from scratch
      – A much better-known brand: Quest is well-known in VR, Google just started
      – A lot of technical features like full-body estimation and hand tracking which are in advanced state. Even Apple with AVP can not match the quality of hand tracking of Quest… imagine how worse should be Google.

      So I wouldn’t consider Horizon OS dead on arrival. It’s big problem is open-ness… I totally agree with you. But it has also some pros that can’t be hidden

      • Christian Schildwaechter

        Horizon OS has the more interesting (gaming) XR content library. AndroidXR currently has zero XR content, but a much more interesting non-XR content library through Play store. How much/fast this will shift depends on AndroidXR growing to where developers want to port to/develop for it. AndroidXR itself reuses all the networking, configuration, payment or user management provided by the Google Play services that Meta can’t use, so I expect it to beat the pants off e.g. Meta’s self-developed multiplayer implementation on day one. And Quest is a well known brand only in the tiny VR community that Google isn’t really going for, while billions of Android users will understand what AndroidXR from Google is for. Or at least those who have even heard of XR/VR.

        Horizon OS isn’t anywhere near dead. Even if nobody else picks it up, Meta will continue to push it. But it’s much easier for Google to compensate for the features and library Quest already has than for Meta to get access to existing Android apps non-gaming users will expect to work. The deplorable state of Quest’s Netflix and YouTube app is symptomatic for Meta’s issues.

    • XRC

      Daydream clearly showed Google’s software and UI design chops, whilst access to existing apps let me run YouTube, photos, cardboard camera (shoot on pixel, view in headset), ChromeVR and Firefox with webVR support, browse web in headset, purchase from play store in headset as well as VR games/experiences.

      Making for a functional tool with genuine value, whilst the Pixel XL and View headset provided a superior media viewing experience to Vive or Rift which shocked me initially.

      • Thud

        The problem that I see as insumountable here is that no one can make a profit selling headsets alone at this point. Especially in the fragmented market they describe here. There isn’t a big enough market yet. Software has been paying for all the Quest headsets and not even really covering manufacturing costs. Anyone hoping to develop and sell headsets at a profit is going to need to price them at least double the cost of the Quest.

        • Christian Schildwaechter

          Facebook and Instagram ads have been paying for all the Quest headsets, not the less than USD 600mn Meta made from their share of USD 2bn Quest store revenue by 2023-09. Google isn’t going for the low margin, mostly games segment. They are going for multi-purpose, high cost mobile phone Android users transitioning to XR, with devices priced like high end smartphones with healthy margins. Of which Samsung sells a lot.

        • Arno van Wingerde

          But how about a Quest3 Copy but with an OLED screen for $1000 that is 100% compatible (only needs a different color profile) and can access the complete Meta library. Pico had essentially superior hardware, but without the UI efforts and Meta software library.

    • Albert

      You don’t have to copy the entire AVP system and have all the phone apps to create something extremely successful. You just need to have 1) 4k displays, 2) something equivalent to personas, and 3) the ability to share a virtual computer or phone screen and whiteboards in a mixed reality mode.

      1 and 2 get you all the movies and sports you want (I am extremely excited about virtual courtside seats watching sports events with my friends) Meta quest 3 has this ability already but the resolution is not high enough and the avatars don’t capture being in the same room as your friends.

      1, 2 and 3 get you telepresence so that you can interact with other people remotely and would be huge for work environments.

      Meta already has hand and eye tracking that is as good if not better than Apple’s. They just need to copy some of the interactions that Apple has made and make the passthrough better.

      Having all of the Android apps would be a huge bonus, but not required for an explosively successful ecosystem.

      • Christian Schildwaechter

        People familiar with VR were blown away by AVP’s intuitive user experience based on eye and hand tracking, not some technical features. Virtual cinema was already a main use on Oculus Go, NextVR offered live 180° NFL/event streaming to Go/Gear VR, and Meta’s avatars are cartoonish personas, presented as their main selling point for Quest Pro eye and face tracking in Horizon Rooms. What those all lacked was usability, consistency and a polished user experience, which is what makes AVP more than hires screens, personas and screen streaming.

        They just need to copy some of the interactions that Apple has made […]

        Quest usability and UI have been criticized a lot, and Meta regularly makes things worse. The latest changes to Workrooms remove the white boards that many users saw as the most/only useful feature. But the moment Apple showed AVP, Google/Samsung postponed their XR HMD to update the software, and Bytedance dropped the Pico 5 to instead create an AVP clone. I not only doubt that just copying some interactions will do, but also that Meta, lacking a UI/UX culture, is even capable of recognizing what needs to be done.

    • Guest

      Well thought out, but you forgot the most critical problems Google has: Sundar Pichai is allergic to games, which are right now the only thing generating any kind of actual revenue or traction with users. Pichai also only cares about AI and has quickly stripped other divisions of resources and attention to pile everything into Bard/Gemini, whereas Mark Zuckerberg wants nothing more than to control the metaverse in its entirety, and has full control of his company with 51% of voting shares so that no one can ever challenge him in any hard decisions that need to be made — something Pichai cannot do, even if he wanted.

  • Ad

    Imagine google’s abuse of their control of android times a hundred.