Meta focused on bringing mixed reality to the masses at its Connect developer conference this week, rolling out its Meta Quest 3 headset with an emphasis on entertainment and gaming. But the company sees potential uses in the workplace, too. In particular, the Quest 3 headset’s “pass-through” feature is designed to blend physical and digital environments.
“Meta Quest 3 will unlock new possibilities and let businesses reimagine the world at work with a combination of mixed reality capabilities, powerful specs, and enhanced ergonomics,” Jamie Keane, Meta’s director of product management, said during a presentation at the Meta Connect event Wednesday.
Workplace training has generally been the primary use for virtual reality headsets in the workplace to date, and while that’s likely to be the same for the Quest 3, the ability to view the outside world while wearing the headset could open up other applications.
“Enterprise adoption for the Quest 3 is certainly expected to grow and be one of the drivers for Quest 3 shipments throughout its lifetime,” said Jitesh Ubrani, a research manager at IDC. “With the Quest 3’s ability to bring mixed-reality experiences, businesses can use the headset in situations where having pass-through capabilities are needed for safety or functionality.”
For example, Quest 3’s hand-tracking capabilities make it useful in scenarios where employees need to be hands-free or are required to have tools, such as when providing remote assistance. “Engineers or mechanics could use the headset while working on an engine through the use of a see-what-I-see solution,” said Ubrani.
The use cases likely to be most important for enterprise users include learning, training, 3D design and visualisation, and — to an extent — meetings and collaboration.
Quest 3 pricing and use cases
The Quest 3, available for pre-order now and on sale Oct. 10, offers several improvements over the Quest 2 and even its pricier Quest Pro headset. It gets a performance boost, for instance, over the Quest 2 with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon XR2 Gen 2 chip. Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg described the device as the “most powerful headset” the company has shipped to date.
The device starts at $499 for a headset with 128GB of storage; a more expensive version with 512GB of storage, sells for $649.
Meta said the new headset will be easier to use and wear. Than its predecessors While not exactly slim, it is noticeably less hefty than either the Quest 2 or Quest Pro, thanks to “next gen” pancake lenses and new displays, according to Meta. Battery life, however, hasn’t improved much; it remains around two hours.
The color “pass-through” feature is perhaps the key addition for the Quest 3; it uses two external cameras to provide a video feed of a user’s surroundings. As with Apple’s Vision Pro, this enables digital objects to be overlaid on top of the physical world — a form of augmented reality. The Quest 3 pass-through is an improvement over the Quest 2’s black and white version, Meta said, with higher fidelity than the more expensive Quest Pro — thanks to two displays with 2064×2208-pixel resolution per eye and an improved refresh rate.
Augmented reality is already used for customer-facing applications, such as visualising furniture at home, said Tuong Nguyen, director analyst at Gartner’s Emerging Technologies and Trends team, and there’s potential for businesses, too. “This can be applied to enterprise use cases like creating a store layout using anchored digital objects to see how different configurations of the store would look, and if certain objects – shelves, displays, machinery – will fit into an existing space,” he said
The full color passthrough will also make collaboration more accessible in the workplace, said Jay Wright, CEO of Campfire, a Meta partner that will bring its “holographic” collaboration software for designers and engineers to the Quest 3 when it launches. Collaboration in fully virtual environments has failed to catch on in a significant way, but augmented or mixed reality could remove some barriers to use.
“We think it fundamentally changes the nature of the device from VR to AR,” said Wright. “It overcomes what we believe have been the biggest challenges for VR and collaboration: it's less isolating, it's far more comfortable, and we can get a lot of friction out of the experience,” said Wright.
While the pass-through is not on the level of Apple’s Vision Pro, said Wright, it’s an improvement on Meta’s other devices, with the higher fidelity helping avoid some of the blurring users may have experienced in the past. “It's significantly better and it's a profoundly different experience for somebody that has dismissed VR for collaboration,” he said. “They're going to put it on and realise, 'I'm still connected to the [external] environment, I see content directly in front of me. I see people that are around me, I get this.' And I think that's what's important.”
Though Quest 3 is more expensive than the Quest 2, it's significantly cheaper than the Quest Pro (which started at $1,500 before a reduction to $1,000), and Apple’s Vision Pro, which will cost $3,500 when available in 2024.
“Pricing could also be a factor, as it is more accessible than other headsets targeting enterprise use cases – this has been a limitation in the past for adoption, with headsets priced at $1,500 or higher,” said Raúl Castañón, senior research analyst at 451 Research, a part of SP Global Market Intelligence.
Leo Gebbie, senior analyst at CCS Insight, said that while many organisations are willing to pay for high-quality headsets that provide a good return on investment, the Quest 3 appears to have a “strong blend of performance, power and price, and I think that will land in the sweet spot for some businesses.”
Meta Quest for Business
An important factor for companies that offer virtual and mixed reality devices to employees is the ability to manage and deploy headsets and the software they run. At Connect, Meta announced the general availability of its Quest for Business management platform, coming at the end of October. Compatible with Microsoft Intune and VMware Workspace One, this allows IT admins to manage users, apps and devices for Quest 2, Quest 3, and Quest Pro products. Two tiers of customer support are available.
Meta has also added a new "shared mode,” which allows headsets to be used by multiple people even if they don’t have a Meta account (a major point of friction for some business users). “We think that’s going to be great for things like training,” said Keane, Meta’s director of product management.
Meta did not respond to a request for subscription pricing information for Quest for Business.
Meta’s success in growing its corporate customer base “depends on how well they’re able to execute on Meta Quest for Business and establish an ecosystem that supports enterprise,” said Nguyen. Offering an enterprise-capable solution requires more than just the device, he said, with applications, services, and support also vital.
Meta’s product lifecycles could present a challenge to business adoption, said Nguyen. Meta ended support for the Oculus Go two years after launch, for example, and there are questions over the future of the Quest Pro less than a year after it arrived. “This is concerning for enterprises because they work on three-to-five-year hardware support/replacement cycles,” said Nguyen.
Also set to arrive later this year is native support for Microsoft Office software applications, including Word and Excel. As with the Apple Vision Pro, Meta sees potential use for workplace productivity tasks. But it remains unclear whether office workers will want to wear a virtual or mixed reality headset for these uses, at least at the current level of device maturity.
“Desk based workers will fall back to the most common denominator – they will go back to the tools that they know and understand and can easily use to get things done,” said Gebbie. “The level of education and onboarding required to bring workers up to speed with how to use a virtual reality headset at work is a huge time and money investment for businesses.
“Unless the user experience has been meaningfully improved and gives people reasons to want to use the headset, I think it could be challenging.”