Facebook has been struggling to keep its VR hardware supply chains open for months, but at the same time they've reportedly been hard at work on the next generation of their popular Quest headset.
According to a report in Bloomberg, Facebook had been planning to release a new version of the Oculus Quest later this year, though the smaller, lighter headset is now likely being delayed to a 2021 launch due to the coronavirus pandemic. The report largely focused on the new device's form factor and aesthetics. The big updates in the next-generation reportedly include a 10-15% reduction in size, a similar reduction in weight, an updated display and possibly a shift to a plastic housing.
We're reached out to Oculus for comment on the report.
The most surprising thing in this report is that Oculus was planning a follow-up release to the Quest around 18 months after the first device launched, but what's also interesting is that none of these updates seem to push new capabilities in the device's next generation.
There's always been a question on how Oculus would decide how to update its hardware. While phone manufacturers deliver updates on an annual basis like clockwork, game console makers have stuck to 5-7 year timelines for pushing big updates. In interviews I've had with Oculus execs, they've seen this as a bit of an open question themselves, largely inferring that the refresh cycle would sit somewhere in between that of consoles and phones.
For early tech platforms, it isn't really in the best interest of the dominant player to meaningfully update the hardware very often because the devices fork the user base: Developers create games for differently powered hardware, users can't play games online with their friends because they have a different iteration device, network effects lessen for an already new platform, etc., etc.
What pushes early hardware forward past this uncomfortable stage of progressions is competition, but just four years into the consumer VR industry, Oculus doesn't really have much competition to one-up. The company's Rift S headset has almost no competition, as Oculus has essentially priced out competitors like Samsung and HTC, really only leaving Valve competing on the PC high-end in a niche of a niche. Sony is the only real threat, though its user base is tied to the PlayStation 4. With the Quest headset, there really is no worthwhile competition, leaving Oculus in a more pleasant position when it comes to planning its future.
This gives Oculus some breathing room to focus on aesthetic and usability-driven updates, as they did with the Rift S, and as it sounds like they may be pursuing with this new reported Quest successor. This may make life a little easier for Facebook's hardware engineering teams, but it proves most beneficial on the content side, giving titles developed for the system longer shelf lives with users getting a bigger library of games to choose from when they enter the ecosystem.
An "S" or "Pro" update schedule certainly makes sense for Oculus devices right now. While nobody is buying a new headset every 18 months, going three years between updates is an eternity when you're aiming to court the first generation of users to a platform. The question will be how this shifts once a worthwhile competitor enters the space and disrupts this approach. They've probably got some time before this happens.