Back in 2017, Facebook began work on a bespoke OS for VR and AR hardware. This operating system was supposed to reduce Facebook’s dependence on other software companies, particularly Google and Apple, which repeatedly threaten Facebook’s business model. But a report by The Information states that Facebook is giving up and sticking with Android.
Update, 1/7/22: Facebook shot down The Information’s report. In a statement to The Verge, the social media giant states that “We are not halting or scaling back our operations in building a reality operating system … The team continues to make progress and we continue to invest in building for future computing platforms like AR glasses and wearable devices to help realize our metaverse vision.”
Additionally, Facebook’s VP of Virtual Reality Engineering tweeted that “There are several technical directions we’re pursuing in our efforts to build @RealityLabs operating systems, we’re still working on a highly specialized OS for our devices.”
The Facebook company, now officially called Meta, has gone through a lot of changes over the last year. Most of those changes center around the push for a “Metaverse,” which will use wearable devices, AR glasses, and VR headsets to combine the internet with real life. (As if the two aren’t intertwined already—that’s a different story, I guess.)
Whatever you think of the Metaverse, it presents a wonderful business opportunity for Facebook. It’s a completely new technological landscape that, like personal computers in the 80s or smartphones in the mid-2000s, still lacks a solid foundation. Facebook could build that foundation and become the Microsoft, Google, or Apple of VR and AR.
But it will be very hard to build that foundation without a bespoke OS, which is why today’s news is so weird. Mark Zuckerberg hinted that the OS, internally called XROS, was “pretty far along” in 2021—so why kill it off?
Well, maybe XROS sucked. That’s always a possibility. But a more likely explanation is that Facebook just doesn’t think a bespoke OS is worth the trouble anymore … because Google’s working on one now.
The XROS development lead, Mark Lucovsky, recently quit his job at Facebook following a series of damming internal leaks and congressional hearings. He was almost immediately hired by Google and is now developing Google’s operating system for VR and AR devices. Like Android, this new operating system may be open source, meaning that any company or small developer can use it for their products.
Of course, I’m just speculating here. Facebook hasn’t explained its decision to ditch XROS, and we don’t know if Google’s VR/AR OS will be open source or not. Additionally, Facebook hasn’t confirmed whether it’s shut down XROS development; we’re simply trusting The Information’s sources.
Source: The Information