- Remote work upended the modern workplace, but another big change could come soon: virtual reality.
- Meta’s and Apple’s mixed-reality headsets could change how we work, but what would that look like?
- Widespread adoption would be key to transforming the workplace, but it looks like a long road ahead.
- This story is part of „How Emerging Tech Is Changing Everything,“ a series exploring the transformative impact of tech innovations across industries.
While the return-to-office debate rages on between advocates of remote work and those in favor of in-person labor, Meta and Apple are developing a new way of working — in the virtual world.
Meta has its lineup of Quest virtual-reality headsets, and Apple has its forthcoming $3,500 Vision Pro headset, with the company keeping its details under wraps.
But what could a workplace in augmented or virtual reality even look like? Here’s what we know so far.
How Meta and Apple are optimizing their headsets for the virtual office
Meta’s first Oculus Quest headset came out in 2019 and was marketed as a gaming device. Several iterations later, the company is onto the Meta Quest 3, which is set to start at $500 and launch this fall. It promises to „let you interact with virtual content and the physical world simultaneously,“ Meta says, for a mixed-reality experience.
Mark Zuckerberg’s costly pet project is building the metaverse, which is broadly defined as virtual worlds that often include some element of virtual or augmented reality.
Horizon Worlds, the company’s multiplayer virtual platform, says it offers virtual offices where employees can „meet teammates, brainstorm ideas, share presentations and get things done.“
Meanwhile, Apple’s $3,500 mixed-reality Vision Pro headset is expected to be the company’s biggest hardware launch since the iPhone when it debuts next year, but Apple is keeping details close to the vest for now.
It’s positioned as a mix of entertainment, productivity, and communication that „seamlessly blends digital content with your physical space“ as you control it with eye movements, hand gestures, and voice commands.
High prices and avatar quality spur doubts about mass market readiness
If mixed-reality headsets are to disrupt the way we work, there’s the issue of price.
To begin with, it’s likely that mostly white-collar desk jobs would be the first adopters of virtual workplaces. Even so, the price point would need to come down substantially for a VR workplace to be accessible to the masses. People audibly groaned and laughed when Apple announced the $3,500 price tag on its mixed-reality Vision Pro headset.
And while Meta’s Quest 3 is significantly cheaper, $500 is still not peanuts.
People’s initial reactions show that the capabilities of these headsets, and any virtual world they enable, could leave much to be desired — at least for now.
When Zuckerberg showed off a selfie of his avatar in 2022 — using Horizon Worlds — in front of a digital Eiffel Tower and Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia, criticism came pouring in.
Viewers gibed about the dead appearance of his avatar’s eyes, the rudimentary look of the background, and, of course, the disappearance of his legs in the virtual world.
Zuckerberg later acknowledged the image was „basic,“ appearing to do damage control with a new avatar that had livelier eyes and legs and writing, „The graphics in Horizon are capable of much more — even on headsets — and Horizon is improving very quickly.“
The necessity of headsets in the office is a debate for the future
Insider’s Alistair Barr previously wrote that while Apple had managed to turn functional devices such as the iPhone and MacBook into status symbols, it looked like it wouldn’t replicate that success with the Vision Pro anytime soon. And many on social media have likened the Vision Pro’s look to ski goggles.
There’s also, of course, a more fundamental question about the headsets. Some people have wondered: Who wants this? The modern workplace has its issues, to be sure, but having your coworkers see you in meetings as a person rather than a digital avatar isn’t really one of them.
It looks like Meta and Apple have a long way to go if their mixed-reality headsets are to transform the way we work.
But if they — or any yet-to-come competitors — catch on, it could one day be a whole new world in the workplace, albeit a virtual one.
Foto: A Meta virtual-reality meeting shows what a workplace of the future could look like. Meta