Oct 28, 2021: The Information’s Creator Economy Summit

AR/VR Facebook

Facebook’s Switch on AR Brain Interfaces Reflects Market Realities

Facebook is ditching its research into the futuristic idea of communicating with just your mind. Instead, it will focus on wrist-based neural interfaces—a way of controlling software based on reading nerve impulses via the wrist. Facebook believes that tech shows promise as a way to control AR glasses. And to be honest, it’s sure to be far more palatable to the average person than a Facebook brain sensor “cap”. 

Facebook’s rationale for the shift is a practical one. In a blog post announcing the change, Facebook says the wrist-based approach “has a nearer-term path to market.” Mark Chevillet, who oversaw Facebook’s research into brain-computer interfaces worn on the head—devices that essentially convert thoughts into digital actions—told MIT Technology Lab that consumer adoption of such devices “is still a very long way out.”

In other words, as potentially transformative as such research is, Facebook doesn’t see it as helping to popularize AR glasses within the next decade. To make a useful, marketable brain-sensing product in the near future, Facebook would need a miracle advance in non-invasive technology. Surgical brain implants are a non-starter, as Mark Zuckerberg has indicated (that seems like a good call). 

Meanwhile, Facebook has boasted about how well its wristband prototypes work in the here-and-now. 

As for what it learned in its brain-computer interface research, that won’t go to waste. Facebook plans to open source the software it has developed and says it will let other researchers use its headworn prototype devices. That still leaves big questions about what this means for the scientists and designers who focused primarily on this work at Facebook, though. Even if they’re all able to stay and contribute to Facebook’s other neural interface projects, some might choose to look for new opportunities elsewhere.

Xbox Eyes a Different Path to VR

In late 2019, Xbox chief Phil Spencer was blunt about the VR market being too small to warrant supporting a headset. Now, however, it seems Spencer might be changing his mind.

“When I look at a scenario like [the Oculus Quest 2],” Spencer said yesterday on a gaming news podcast from Kinda Funny, “I think about xCloud, I think about the Xbox Live community, I think about other things. How could we bring content to a screen like that? Whether we do something like that through a first party or a third-party partnership is a second step.”

Note that Spencer is considering flipping the usual gaming script, which usually dictates that a console maker would treat something like a VR headset as an accessory to the console, as Sony did with PlayStation VR. But Microsoft is shifting its strategy away from one focused on developing its own hardware to one where its software is key. As a result, Spencer sees the potential to offer Xbox services and games on an existing headset.

In the same vein, owning an Xbox console is increasingly optional for Xbox customers. Microsoft is serious about its plan to make its Game Pass subscription service the main point of entry to the Xbox ecosystem; players with an Xbox console or PC can run games on those, but xCloud (included in the subscription) allows for streaming gameplay on phones and other devices. Bringing Game Pass to the Quest 2 isn’t beyond the realm of possibility—if anything, it seems more likely than Game Pass on Nintendo hardware, something that’s been rumored for years.

Other news:

  • DigiLens and Mitsubishi announced a new partnership on plastic waveguides for AR glasses, positioning them as a cheaper and more rugged alternative to the glass waveguides used in today’s AR headsets.

Thanks for reading Reality Check. I’d love to hear your thoughts any time at [email protected] And if you know someone who might like this newsletter, just forward it along and point them to www.theinformation.com/reality-check so they can sign up for it.

See you next week,

Mathew


Mathew Olson is the writer for The Information’s Reality Check, a newsletter devoted to following trends, innovations and news in AR and VR. He is based in New York and can be reached by email at [email protected] or Signal at 646-694-0692.
Get access to exclusive coverage
Read deeply reported stories from the largest newsroom in tech.
Latest Articles
 
Exclusive Crypto Venture Capital
No Longer Just Crypto Curious, Sand Hill Road Investors Get Blockchain Fever
Illustration by Josh Brill
For years, the most avid investors in crypto startups have been firms that specialize in the category—with the notable exception of Andreessen Horowitz, the Silicon Valley venture capital firm that got crypto religion early. Now, though, the most storied firms on Silicon Valley's Sand Hill Road are going from crypto curious to true believers. This year, a quarter of the new...
Latest Briefs
 
Google Employee: Ad Business is Like Goldman Sachs Owning New York Stock Exchange
Shoppers Can Now Buy Bitcoin at Walmart
Chinese Firms CATL, BYD Balk at Building Battery Plant in U.S. For Apple Car
Stay in the know
Receive a summary of the day's top tech news—distilled into one email.
Access on the go
View stories on our mobile app and tune into our weekly podcast.
Join live video Q&A’s
Deep-dive into topics like startups and autonomous vehicles with our top reporters and other executives.
Enjoy a clutter-free experience
Read without any banner ads.
Art by Mike Sullivan
Exclusive Startups Facebook
Facebook’s Ad-Tracking Loss Is Startups’ Gain
Apple’s clampdown on ad tracking has prompted some small online merchants to cut back their ad spending on social media sites like Facebook, which they see as a less effective outlet than in the past.
Data Point Venture Capital
Andreessen Horowitz Investment Staff Grew 170% in Four Years
One of the running jokes among Silicon Valley venture capitalists is that, eventually, all of them will become partners at VC firm Andreessen Horowitz.
Kyle Samani, Multicoin Capital co-founder and managing partner. Screenshot via YouTube. Art by Mike Sullivan.
Exclusive Crypto Venture Capital
Multicoin Capital Targets $250 Million for Third Crypto VC Fund
Multicoin Capital, which operates a hedge fund focused on crypto tokens, is planning to raise $250 million for its third venture fund to back crypto startups, according to fundraising materials viewed by The Information.
Clockwise from upper left: Brian Brooks, Catherine Coley,  Venkata “Murthy” Renduchintala, Brian Boland, Kirthiga Reddy and Janice Min
Free Agents
On the Market: Executives From Facebook, SoftBank, Intel and Binance.US
The wave of job changes dubbed the Great Resignation includes top tech and media leaders. Executives who have left roles at Intel, SoftBank, Facebook and crypto exchange Binance.US in the last year are among those on the move.
Ripple Labs CEO Brad Garlinghouse.  Photo: Ripple Labs
Q&A Crypto Startups
Ripple CEO: It’s ‘a Joke’ That Some Execs Believe SEC Isn’t Harming Crypto
Ripple Labs, the $10 billion valuation startup behind the digital currency XRP, has ridden a wave of interest in crypto: Transactions on its payment network gained 33% in the third quarter, bolstering its bank balance to more than $500 million.
Art by Mike Sullivan
Exclusive Media/Telecom Amazon
The Battle of the Streaming Gatekeepers Heats Up
In 2019, David Limp, head of Amazon’s devices business, saw an opening. For years, Roku—Amazon’s chief rival in the market for devices that let you stream video onto television sets—had supplied software to TCL, one of the world’s leading TV makers, to power the Chinese company’s internet-connected TV sets.