Just don’t call it a headset. The Meta Quest 2 has two screens, 3D audio speakers, integrated microphones, two handheld controllers with four buttons each, a custom operating system with voice recognition, its own app store, and thousands of apps, all for $300. The only difference with your other computers, tablets, and smartphones is that you strap it to your head to wear it right in front of your eyes.
We tried on a Quest 2 this month for work at Verb and found it very compelling. It was a pleasant surprise if, like us, you were expecting something closer to older incarnations of the same idea, when it was called Oculus Rift, sold at double the price, and only worked when tethered to a high-performance gaming computer worth $3,000. The headset description no longer fits this very capable standalone computer with its own system, interface, and programs.
Start with the system, which connects directly to Wi-Fi, supports different usernames and has full social networking capabilities. Once you turn the Quest 2 on for the first time, you can use the hand controllers to point and click at menus and enter text using an on-screen keyboard. You pick a Wi-Fi network, enter your password, select a username, and voila! You are in your own futuristic virtual living room where you can access any of the system’s apps and settings. You can also pair the Quest 2 to your phone if you want to see your notifications while in the metaverse.
That’s just the basics, because the Quest 2 can also track the motions of your head, body, eyes, and hands and understand voice commands. To start using all these interface elements, a little external black and white camera lets you first tell the device where the ground is using your hands, a little like if you were dancing the mashed potato, and then asks you to paint a circle around you that is free of furniture and obstacles so it’s safe to move around. The Quest 2 will then remember all of this and alert you if you inadvertently step out of the circle and are about to fall off the stairs or bump into the coffee table.
These are necessary precautions because skilled metaverse developers can immerse you in virtual worlds in their apps and you forget where you are in the physical world. Compass UOL, Verb’s customer, achieved such an effect with their Stolen Art Gallery, which uses light and sound to put you in the right mood to appreciate a series of missing paintings by Van Gogh, Rembrandt, and other Old Masters. Something about the Quest 2 makes the metaverse more real than the world around you, no mean feat for a rather inexpensive consumer product.
All of which begs the question, how did Meta, Facebook’s parent company, managed to ship all this magic for just $300? One explanation is that they are investing a lot of money in what looks like a loss leader pricing strategy, selling a metaverse experience at a lower price than the cost to produce it to build an early share lead. When releasing their first-quarter earnings, Meta reported a $2.9 billion loss on their virtual reality division which includes the Quest, or 10 percent of the revenue of the entire corporation in the same period. Meta has not reported how many Quest 2 units it sold, but their chip provider mentioned that they might have sold as many as ten million in the first year after launch, or nearly 900 thousand units per month. If that number had held in the first quarter of this year, Meta would be losing about $1,000 per each Quest 2 sold in the period, a figure which might not include just hardware costs but all the research and development that went into the system, interface, and app store.
“I recognize it’s expensive” to build the metaverse, said Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg after reporting the loss. The gutsy bet they made did give Meta an early lead in the race to develop a viable platform in this new medium. Others like Apple will follow, but right now Meta is clearly the player to catch.
A little more gifted
Avaya is showcasing new customer service bots that are “like Alexa or Siri but a little more gifted,” according to Channel Futures. The difference is that Avaya’s channel partners build these custom bots using all their knowledge of the customer scenario, combining the tools and processes already in place with new artificial intelligence models. “Partners can sell something that’s additive, not competitive,” said Avaya’s Steve Forcum.
Human Interest Stories
Roger Lee co-founded Human Interest, which provides small businesses in the US with easy private retirement plans. But when he’s not busy with his own company, Lee runs Layoffs.fyi, a website listing all startup layoffs he learned about anywhere in the world. He presents the information in a list showing company name, location, number of people affected, date, share of the company’s total employees, industry, and a link to the data source. After a relatively quiet 2021, his report shows that layoffs are going up sharply. Interested? If your company is hiring, you can subscribe to receive updates about laid-off talent by email.