Meta Connect 2023 was the first in-person event from the folks formerly known as Facebook since 2019. During this time the Quest 2 has moved the VR industry along and AI has risen to be a vital technology trend. Whether you are already a developer for Quest 3 apps or you are in the market for the most banging Christmas gift ideas, Meta Connect was a treat. John Keefe, Draw & Code Co-Founder, was invited to Silicon Valley to be there at the event.
For Meta Connect 2023 it was back to Menlo Park instead of huddling around the laptop to go and see Meta’s leadership in the flesh rather than as their alter egos. “The physical world around us is amazing” Mark Zuckerberg opined during the event’s opening, “At the same time over the last few decades our industry has been building up this increasingly vibrant digital world.”
Ah, OK we see where this is going. “Increasingly the real world is the combination of the real world we inhabit and this digital world we are building.” If there’s one tenet that Draw & Code is founded on it is mixing the physical and digital world, so we are well and truly on board with this.
“How do we unify these experiences?” asks The Zuck. Spoiler alert, we already know the answer – it’s mixed reality. And that’s where the Quest 3 comes in.
If you skimmed through the ensuing introduction to the latest Meta Quest headset you’d think you were walking into an AR product launch, not a VR one. And for good reason – the USP of the Quest 3 is better passthrough VR (or mixed reality in Silicon Valley-speak) than has ever been offered at this price point of $499.
What does that mean for the user? Workouts that won’t have you flinging your arms into the ornaments, ‘Augments’ that are windows into apps that can be spatially anchored to places in your home, new ways to visualise co-operative gameplay and quite simply less claustrophobic experiences.
Mainstream Mixed Reality
The claims that this is ‘the first mainstream mixed reality headset’ are pretty much true, although there have been some takes on using an iPhone to come up with a Google Cardboard-esque solution to mixed reality that we hope are recognised as paving the way for the impending passthrough revolution. Draw & Code were close to the Merge VR headset having produced several apps for it while Mira was absorbed into Apple and will surely filter down into a more accessible take on the Vision Pro.
While mentioning Merge, they had always held the belief that VR and AR headsets are ideal for engaging kids with educational and other content. It seems like after years of the arbitrary 13+ stipulation that saw VR firmly in the hands of time-poor grown-ups, Meta are also embracing the young players who helped make Rec Room or Gorilla Tag such sensations.
Roblox and Lego’s underrated Bricktales are both being ported to the Quest 3 and were standouts in the game content showcased. However impressive the improved cameras or more powerful Snapdragon XR2 chipset may be, family-friendly content makes the Quest 3 a very compelling purchase.
During the game-focused talk from Meta’s Head of Developer Relations Melissa Brown was the revelation that Quest now boasts an ecosystem worth $2bn. That is around a third of the annual revenue of the digital stores for major consoles so it’s not to be sniffed at – it’s an achievement our industry should celebrate.
“We are so proud to see what Quest 2 has done to shape an entire industry,” Melissa opened with and it’s hard to argue with this. These numbers certainly give us faith in being a developer for Quest 3 apps; we expect to see this viable development ecosystem continue to grow.
AI and Smart Glasses
Aside from the Quest 3, AI and smart glasses were the other two themes explored. In fact, these both crossed over a great deal thanks to the terribly unimaginatively titled Ray Ban Meta Smart Glasses. The semi transparent (oh how I like to see the inside of my tech) glasses take the previous Stories and amp up the audio input and output while incorporating AI and computer vision (gosh, we don’t hear that term as often as we used to) to make a truly useful personal assistant.
Visual search, language translation – it’s all here. This no longer looks like a Snap Spectacles alternative and now has put the ‘smart’ in smart glasses. I’m still not sure on some of the privacy issues but aside from that I expect the next time I visit California to see a lot of bright young things rocking a pair of these.
After all the hardware innovations, it was the AI software that stole the headlines in the world’s press. Meta’s EMU image generation was one of the new reveals which appeared similar to most of its rivals although works within a speedy five seconds – there’s no chaotic Discord interfaces here.
But it wasn’t EMU that got the world’s attention – instead it was a series of AI agents ‘played’ by famous celebs. If you had Mark Zuckerberg playing a text adventure with an AI Snoop Dogg on your 2023 Silicon Valley bingo card then you certainly got what you wanted. Will the world really want celebs to act as a chatty alternative to Google? We’re about to find out I guess.
Meta is at the heart of the XR industry and is deeply influential even if you don’t engage with their products. The event itself reflected this with hundreds of luminaries from around the world there and was predominantly developer-focused with an impressive list of attendees that proves the industry has moved on from past hype. I found myself bumping into so many familiar faces and the vibe was a good one. Meta Connect 2023 felt like a celebration and fills us with almost as much excitement as Mark Zuckerberg was exuding as he spoke. As Meta’s CTO Andrew ‘Boz’ Bosworth put it, “It’s a fun time to see these technologies coming together right before our eyes”. It certainly is.