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As Apple prepares to release a mixed-reality device, Meta's lead in the virtual reality market will collapse quickly unless it can build an ecosystem.
In 2021, Meta partnered with Ray-Ban to release a set of smart glasses called Ray-Ban Stories. They can capture photos, playback audio, take phone calls, and perform other basic tasks.
Meta ran into some problems when developing the glasses, according to a recent report from The Information. Before the product launched, the team had spent months trying to make them work better with the iPhone.
They wanted photos taken by the glasses to automatically download to a user's iPhone without needing them to open Meta's app. But the automatic download wouldn't work when the iPhone was inactive.
Unlike Google and Apple, which are rumored to launch AR products, Meta doesn't manufacture a smartphone. Initially, an AR headset may need to pair with a smartphone to perform complex computations.
Sources say Meta has been trying to build devices that could pair with AR glasses, such as a smartphone-shaped device that could control the glasses or give them computing power. But the downside is requiring people to carry an extra device in their pocket in addition to the smartphone that they likely already have.
Meta also tried — unsuccessfully — to create a smartwatch that could pair with its AR glasses. But the team has faced problems with design and power and has scrapped three unreleased smartwatches.
Apple produces iPhones and Apple Watches that could pair with its rumored AR glasses, giving the company a considerable advantage over Meta, at least until, or unless, Meta can create glasses that have enough computing power to work without a smartphone or smartwatch.
Apple also creates operating systems that work on its devices, and is building a new one for its AR headset. Meta is also lacking in this area, abandoning a project to create a custom operating system in 2021. It also has to rely on other companies for chips to power its headset.
As more companies enter the AR and VR spaces, Meta will need to solve these problems if it wants to stay in the lead and produce a headset that people can comfortably wear for hours at a time instead of a bulky product.