Qualcomm and Facebook parent company Meta have signed a multi-year agreement to collaborate on custom versions of the Qualcomm Snapdragon XR chip for use in “future roadmaps for Quest products” and “other devices,” the company said in a statement on Sept. 5. The two companies have signed a multi-year agreement to work together on custom versions of the Qualcomm Snapdragon XR chip for “future roadmaps for Quest products” and “other devices.
In some ways, these moves are normal business moves, as the Quest 2 uses the Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2 chip. However, this may help provide a deeper understanding of how Meta will compromise and control the high cost of its metaverse strategy in the face of declining revenue.
The partnership with Qualcomm suggests that Meta’s upcoming headsets, including a high-end headset codenamed Cambria and a lower-priced version of the Quest headset, will not use entirely Meta’s own chip designs. Meanwhile, Meta’s rival companies, such as Apple, Amazon and Google, are currently making product decisions around custom chip designs such as the M2, Graviton3 and Tensor, and Meta itself has had a dedicated team in place since 2018 to do similar work.
The press release about the partnership indicates that these Qualcomm chips will be “customized” to meet Meta’s needs. It’s unclear, however, how different Meta’s “high-end devices” will be from the hardware of other manufacturers. Other products are likely to strictly follow the Qualcomm Snapdragon XR reference design.
In April, it was reported that Meta employees were working with a chip foundry to produce custom chips for an augmented reality headset that has not yet been announced. That same month, it was also reported that Meta had encountered some obstacles in producing the custom chips, forcing it to use Qualcomm chips as an alternative in its second-generation Ray-Bay smart glasses.
A Meta spokesperson said in response that Meta would not discuss the specifics of the evolution of its product roadmap or comment on plans to adopt custom chips for Quest products. However, Meta’s overall strategy for custom chips is that there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to the technology used in future devices.
The spokesperson said, “It may be the case that we use off-the-shelf chips or work with industry partners to customize them, while exploring new chip solutions of our own. It is also possible that we will use both partner products and custom solutions in the same product. Everything we do is designed to create the best metaverse experience possible.”
There are other signs that Meta’s virtual and augmented reality business has shrunk. Currently, Meta uses Android in its Quest headset, but there are reports that the company is developing its own operating system for virtual reality and augmented reality devices. Some media outlets have reported that Meta has suspended a project called XROS, which may involve an operating system. Meta’s response to the report is that the company “is still developing a highly specialized operating system for our devices. However, the “microkernel-based operating system” that Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he was working on in 2021 has still not been unveiled.
The backdrop to all of this is that Meta is under enormous pressure. Meta’s revenue fell for the first time this year as Apple’s tweaks to iOS privacy settings impacted precision ad delivery. Zuckerberg, for his part, made it clear that he plans to increase the pressure on employees. I think some of you might say that this place is not for you,” he said. I have no problem with that choice of autonomy.” In the meantime, he’s betting heavily on the metaverse strategy. meta spends billions of dollars a year on projects in this area, including augmented reality and virtual reality headsets, but has suffered huge losses.
It’s a risky competition for Meta. But for now, users who access Zuckerberg’s vision of the metaverse through Meta’s hardware will continue to use chips from other manufacturers.