Facebook — because I refuse to call them Meta — is going hard on retail, and eventually we're likely to see stores around the globe selling Portals and Oculus headsets and, like, Meta-branded mugs and T-shirts?
Fast on the heels of the Meta rebranding — which is still hilarious — the New York Times reported last week on a push to roll out retail locations for the company's hardware products. This effort reportedly predates the whole Meta thing by about a year, and it's likely that Mark Zuckerberg has been chomping at the bit for years to compete with Apple in the distribution sphere. The flagship Meta Store location, reportedly, could be in Burlingame.
The thing that the broader consumer world still hasn't been sold on, though, is virtual reality, with Oculus and its headsets still just niche products loved by nerds — and not exactly the sexiest concept from the get-go.
As NYU business professor and frequent tech commentator Scott Galloway puts it to New York Magazine this week, "The Oculus is not a wearable. In fact, it’s prophylactic. No one’s going to get near you. It’s basically the fastest way to say, 'I don’t date.'"
We now learn that the Oculus brand is likely going away soon — the Oculus Quest will become the Meta Quest — and likewise, Facebook branding will be stripped from the company's other main (and mostly failed) hardware product, Portal, which will become the Meta Portal. Next to come, hardware-wise, likely in a couple of years, will be some AR glasses — they're reportedly more normal-looking than Google's first attempt at this idea, and the project is called Nazaré, though that name may not stick.
How many Meta stores ultimately open up around the country or the globe is still an open question, and the company still won't publicly confirm that retail stores are happening — a spokesperson only told the Times that the company's hardware is available at partner retailers right now, and the latest Oculus headset is "in high demand."
Is it, though? As Galloway points out, "Oculus sells like 2 or 3 million units a year? Apple sold 110 million AirPods last year."
And, for the time being, Apple still controls the ultimate point of distribution, which is the App Store, with Google controlling the Android counterpart. So Apple has given users the power to control whether Facebook tracks them on their phones — such as it is — thereby being the gatekeeper for data, which we know is Facebook's most precious currency.
Galloway goes on in the New York Mag interview to say that the metaverse, at least Facebook/Meta's version, is "dead on arrival," and not just because "everyone is freaked out by the idea of a scientific god named Mark Zuckerberg" controlling our virtual world.
There are still open questions about how much and how often people really want to leave this earthly plane and "do things" in a metaverse like attend a concert with a friend in Sweden, or whatever. Some people say VR headsets make them nauseated or dizzy. Others are bound to just feel lame sitting in a room by themselves with this junk strapped over their eyes, traveling in a video-game world and buying food you can't eat with Diem coins (Facebook's not-yet-extant cryptocurrency).
The porn world came up with machines you could fuck while you wore a VR headset and watched VR porn a few years back — will Meta be making one of those too? It seems like the logical next step for hardware products if you want people to have a reason to go to the metaverse.
Galloway suggests that maybe the first step in the metaverse may not even be video, but audio, or at least more audio-based.
When Mark Zuckerberg says, “Imagine your friend is at a great concert around the world and you can join her.” Let’s play that out. I get a text message from my friend and I’m at the mall, or a movie, or at school. Am I going to pull out my handy Oculus and throw it on my head and start jamming to the Weeknd? It doesn’t make any sense...
A portal needs to be like an appendage, and right now, there’s actually more opportunity around sound than sight. Oculus sells like 2 or 3 million units a year? Apple sold 110 million AirPods last year. People wear them when they’re not even using them. Someone can already say, “Hey, I’m at the Weeknd’s concert in Prague right now, listen to this,” and you can listen wherever you are. Looking forward, Apple could install some sort of smart camera on AirPods and you might be able to see whatever someone else is seeing on their AirPods. That’s why Apple owns the on-ramp to AR, and the App Store is kind of the closest thing we have to a metaverse right now.
Anyway, we still don't know if it will be called The Meta Store, and according to documents obtained by the Times, other names were in the pipeline before the rebranding. Facebook Hub, Facebook Commons, Facebook Innovations, Facebook Reality Store and From Facebook, before eventually settling on the Facebook Store, which now seems likely to get tossed out too because, as Zuckerberg said the other week, the Facebook name "just doesn't encompass everything that we do."
And, he said, "I think it’s helpful for people to have a relationship with a company that is different from the relationship with any specific one of the products, that can kind of supersede all of that."
So, would you shop at a Meta store? Or will this just become another big joke like Portal?
Photo still via Facebook/Meta