"It's painful how hellbent Mark Zuckerberg is on convincing us that VR is a thing." That's a TechCrunch headline on an article about Meta's VR developer conference this week, at which the company unveiled a new $1,500 headset for use in the still very beta metaverse.
The lonely hellscape of Facebook/Meta's VR platform Horizon Worlds that was described in a New York Times piece last weekend hardly sounds like a draw for even VR gaming nerds, let alone average users of the internet and social media. So, for sure, the metaverse still feels years from becoming the vision of parallel-reality fun and utility that Zuckerberg described when he announced his company's big pivot into VR last year.
NYT journalist Kashmir Hill took Meta's Quest headset for a spin and spent a total of 24 hours in Horizon Worlds, and she describes encounters with random people in the wee hours of the morning, chatting about random stuff, which she says, "reminded me of the AOL chat rooms from my earliest days on the internet, in the 1990s." Also, Hill experienced constant intrusions by children — who aren't technically supposed to be in the metaverse — who wandered through complaining about being made to eat, or just shout-talking things like “Want to hear a story about my school?”
That article preceded Meta Connect 2022, the virtual virtual-reality conference at which Zuckerberg did a keynote address on Tuesday, doing his Steve Jobs best to drum up excitement and unveil big new things happening for Meta in the metaverse.
TechCrunch notes that Zuck — or rather his avatar — made "a series of hand-wavey 'announcements'" about innovations to come — which includes the addition of legs to avatars in a future update, which means no more floating torsos. "Zuck covered all the old stand-bys — social, gaming, fitness and 'future of work,'" writes TechCrunch's Darrell Etherington. "None looked significantly improved or capable of acting as a turning point in terms of mass adoption, and most had either vague or nonexistent ship dates."
Zuck also unveiled a $1,500 headset, the Meta Quest Pro, which does not seem like a major draw even for the earliest of early adopters, but we'll see! As the Associated Press explains, the new, high-resolution headset adds "eye tracking and so-called 'natural facial expressions' that mimic the wearer’s facial movements so their avatars appear natural when interacting with other avatars in virtual-reality environments."
"The company is investing billions in its metaverse plans that will likely take years to pay off," the AP writes.
Check out this expensive-looking ad!
Sneak peek of the future today at Meta Connect 🔮:— Meta (@Meta) October 11, 2022
✅ Our first mixed reality device @MetaQuestVR Pro
✅ The start of a new way to work in the metaverse
✅ Cutting-edge @RealityLabs research to build technology that connects people
Read more 👉 https://t.co/Ryf01kVM4c pic.twitter.com/2c1i7AAm7U
As CNBC notes, Zuckerberg made not-so-veiled references to Apple in his keynote, discussing how the metaverse should rely on an open ecosystem of software, and shouldn't be dominated by one company's "closed ecosystem" of products, like Windows or Mac. "I see our role is not just helping to build this open ecosystem, but making sure that the open ecosystem wins out in this next generation of the internet," Zuckerberg said.
The most hilarious coverage of the keynote came from TechCrunch's Taylor Hatmaker, who describes scrambling with other colleagues to locate a charged-up Meta Quest headset — she won the assignment to attend the keynote after locating hers.
"It took me a little bit of gesticulating wildly to remember the controls, but then I was ready to watch the Meta CEO’s keynote, which was attended by myself and 5,400 of my closest friends’ torsos, a number that probably accurately reflects how many Meta employees and wayward tech reporters were required to watch this thing in three dimensions instead of two," Hatmaker writes.
The biggest problem Hatmaker finds in Horizon Worlds' early days? The arms.
One thing I will say is the avatars in Horizon Worlds look pretty okay now (mine is kind of hot, to be perfectly honest), but man, people are doing some wild stuff with their arms. Presumably, like me, everyone else in my little pocket world was watching while seated at their desk, intensely gripping their little spherical joystick deathstars, the only remaining tether to tactile reality.
The effect of that is everyone sticking their arms straight out like zombies or worse, twisting them up in horrible contortions because, like me, at some point they got sick of holding the controllers and set them down haphazardly. I even found one poor fucker levitating in space at the great floppy infinity fountain, his body folded hopelessly into itself three feet off the ground. I’m just bringing this up because we’re adding feet now, but maybe we should be un-adding arms, you know?
Welcome to the great metaverse, everybody! I'll just be over here watching HGTV and playing Two Dots on my phone.