Apple and Meta are fighting a cold war

Aug 30, 2022 - min read min read

Apple, apple on the wall

It’s been suspiciously quiet at Apple for a few years now. They’re working hard behind the scenes though—cooking up the iPhone’s successor, presumably. Not the iPhone 37 (who's counting?), but something radically new. As I wrote in my book (#shamelessselfpromo), everything at Apple is currently pointing in the direction of XR. All there’s left to do is wait until early 2023, when there’s a gigantic event on the agenda, hosted by Tim.

For years, Apple has been acquiring start-ups who focus on certain aspects of augmented and mixed reality. In 2010, the company took over Swedish facial recognition software company Polar Rose, then quickly integrated that technology into Face ID to unlock your iPhone with a facial scan. In 2013, they bought PrimeSense, an Israeli venture which develops 3D sensors that map body movements. Apple also acquired VRvana (a leading company in the development of mixed reality headsets), media company NextVR (who create virtual reality content for top players such as the NBA, NFL or WWE) and Akonia Holographics (who develop lenses for AR glasses).

Being (and remaining) the best like Apple doesn't happen by itself, though. They’re known as a brand that doesn’t shy away from a cold war—as seen in the 2020 lawsuit against them by Fortnite developer Epic Games, for example. The creators of the popular metaverse game didn’t agree with the thirty per cent Apple pockets for every purchase of the game through their App Store. The problem with this is that Fortnite (and other developers) are obliged to offer their applications through Apple's official shop—meaning Apple walks away with thirty per cent of the revenue on Apple devices, no matter what. This puts metaverse creators in a difficult position. On the one hand, it’s quite unprofitable for developers to make their platforms available through the App Store, since they lose out on thirty per cent revenue. On the other hand, if you ignore all Mac, iPhone and iPad users, you're obviously missing out on a lot of potential customers.

In other words: Apple holds an incredibly powerful position, earning from metaverse worlds by proxy. They are obviously not the only ones using their position to make a profit. Games library Steam, by far the standard application for storing computer games on your PC, is also taking thirty per cent—as is Google Play, Android’s app shop. It remains to be seen to what extent they will be able to hold on to this acquired privilege in a metaverse future, and whether digital creatives will want to continue creating, since traditional Big Tech are currently stealing their cake—and eating it too.

The ten-million-dollar question

‘Ask app not to track.’ It’s what Apple asks you every time you install a new application. This tracking is just about the main pillar the Meta/Facebook empire is built on. No wonder it's faltering now. This 'minor intervention' costs Meta about 10 billion in turnover per year. As a company, you’d update your to-do’s for less. Number one on the checklist at Meta: become independent of Apple, and thus develop their own hardware. Number two is to move forward by investing more than ten billion a year in Horizon Worlds, Meta's metaverse platform. Let’s hope the cash doesn't dry up before their dream metaverse sees the light of day. 

To celebrate Horizon Worlds’ upcoming launch in France and Spain, Mark Zuckerberg recently posted a selfie of his avatar with a mini Eiffel Tower and Tibidabo in the background. Impulsive or well-thought-out? I’d say you don’t become as rich as Mark by sharing information accidentally. Whatever the case, the Internet didn’t exactly dig his move. But then, bad publicity is still publicity, isn’t it?

“Zuckerberg says Meta and Apple are in ‘very deep, philosophical competition’ to build the metaverse. ‘This is a competition of philosophies and ideas,’ Meta’s CEO recently told employees.” 

It remains to be seen which philosophy that is, exactly. At the end of the day, they are businesses. And businesses, by and large, want to make money. How they do that might be fairly diverse—by building crazy cool innovative sh*t, for example, or by running off with your data. All major tech brands are busy exploring VR/AR/the metaverse. All want to manufacture, launch and hopefully dominate. For now, though, Apple seems to have the upper hand, with their expensive questions and exclusive App Store. Slightly dominant and fairly monopolistic, but who knows what the future will bring. Ideally, technology, the consumer, and the experience will all be better for it. If that requires some power play, then by all means let’s have it.