Mark Zuckerberg calls AR glasses "one of the hardest technical challenges of the decade"

The Facebook CEO said the potential for the augmented reality market will open up once you can fit a supercomputer onto a pair of glasses.
Written by Stephanie Condon, Senior Writer

Virtual reality and augmented reality represent a key area of investment for Facebook, CEO Mark Zuckerberg stressed Wednesday during an earnings conference call. And while the company has hit some key milestones in advancing VR, Zuckerberg said that building AR glasses that can gain mainstream acceptance will be "one of the hardest technical challenges of the decade." 

The challenge comes down to "basically fitting a supercomputer in the frame of glasses," Zuckerberg said. "I find that a very exciting problem to work on. And I think that once that's achievable, potential on that is going to be quite big."

Facebook has for years clearly conveyed the potential it sees for VR and AR to become, as Zuckerberg puts it, "the next computing platform." Last month, Facebook shared more about its investments in areas like neural interfaces for interacting with AR. 

"I believe that that augmented and virtual reality are going to enable a deeper sense of presence and social connection than any existing platform," Zuckerberg said Wednesday. "And they're going to be an important part of how we will interact with computers in the future. So we're gonna keep investing heavily in building out the best experiences here. And this accounts for a major part of our overall R&D budget growth."

Facebook's better-than-expected performance in recent quarters "has given us the confidence to increase our investments meaningfully" in AR and VR, the CEO said. Along with two other key areas -- commerce and supporting creators -- AR and VR "have the potential to change the trajectory of the company over the long term."

Zuckerberg also put increased emphasis on AR and VR on Wednesday because of the success of the Oculus Quest 2, Facebook's wireless VR headset. The product is doing better than expected, even after the holiday season. 

"In terms of what changed, I think the the big piece here is that Quest 2 is doing quite well," he said. "And I don't want to overstate it because I think compared to, you know, platforms that are that are large, massive successes today, it's still obviously on the on the small end." 

That said, he added, "there's been a very real inflection, in terms of adoption and engagement that we're seeing."

Additionally, he said, Quest has "by far the best lineup of VR content." Notably, the use cases have expanded beyond games. 

"The most used apps are social, which fits our original theory for why we wanted to build this platform in the first place," Zuckerberg said. "We're also seeing productivity and even fitness apps."

Facebook still has "a long way to go" to build out its AR and VR platforms, Zuckerberg said. "But I think that the feedback that we're getting from our products is giving us more confidence that our prediction for the future here will happen and that we're focusing on the right areas."

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