Last October, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg made such a big bet on the metaverse that he even officially changed the name of the company to “Meta.” That move was greeted in the tech world with some skepticism and even befuddlement, and this week Zuckerberg appeared again, at SXSW 2022, to explain what the company is up to with its metaverse plans.
Zuckerberg was interviewed – remotely – by FUBU founder and CEO and “Shark Tank” cohost Daymond John, who was on stage in Austin. But the Facebook founder noted that his virtual presence was apropos, since the company’s metaverse plans are “about making people feel present, no matter where they are.”
“I believe that the metaverse is the next chapter of the Internet,” said Zuckerberg when asked by Johns to describe exactly what the company is doing. He added that when Facebook started in 2004, it was primarily text-based, until technology later enabled photos and then videos. He sees the metaverse as the next step of that.
“The defining characteristic of the metaverse is that you really feel present with people, who are in another place,” he said. “That feeling of presence, and everything that comes with it, is… in many ways the holy grail of the kind of experiences we’ve been talking about for a long time.”
When Meta announced its name change, it was the butt of many jokes and criticism around how silly the avatars looked in the original demo. Zuckerberg acknowledged, at SXSW, that while the avatars aren’t quite “photorealistic” yet, they will improve over time. Facebook has also hinted at opening physical stores to showcase its virtual and augmented reality devices, although Zuckerberg didn’t bring that up on Tuesday.
The company’s metaverse plans have all sorts of applications, from business meetings and retail — Zuckerberg suggested that Johns’ apparel company, FUBU could create a presence there — to comedy clubs and general hangouts. He added that the idea could lead to the creation of an economy that will lead to “millions and millions of jobs,” and also to help overcome inequality, as people can place themselves somewhere other than their circumstances. That last promise was a bit rich considering that Oculus VR headsets currently cost around $400 and there are still regions of the country and world where high-speed broadband still isn’t available.
“You can jump into the metaverse and teleport, to access all of the opportunity everywhere,” Zuckerberg said. “[The metaverse] is clearly the next evolution in how we experience media and moments.”
The metaverse is meant to roll out on various hardware devices, over a long period of time, as Facebook has a 15-year “road map” for its plans. Among the challenges, Zuckerberg said, was getting all the important functions of AR and VR onto a pair of glasses, making it work, and making it affordable.
VR is already available on the Oculus Quest 2, while AR is “a few years off,” although aspects of it will roll out sooner. We’re a few years away, he said, from something that does both AR and works on glasses, and full implementation is likely at the “end of the decade.”
Reggie Fils-Aime, the former president of Nintendo of America, appeared on stage at SXSW earlier in the conference and expressed extreme skepticism about what Facebook is doing in the space.
“I’m not a buyer of that idea,” Fils-Aime said at his keynote Saturday. “You have to admit that Facebook itself is not an innovative company. They have either acquired really interesting things, like Oculus, or Instagram, or they’ve been a fast follower of other people’s ideas. That’s Facebook.” He added that Facebook tends not to specialize in hardware, and is more ad-focused than consumer-focused.
Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen is also at South by Southwest, although not on the same panel.