The Information: ‘Meta Platforms Halts VR and AR Operating System Project’

Sylvia Varnham O’Regan, reporting for The Information:

Facebook parent company Meta Platforms has stopped development of a new software operating system to power its virtual reality devices and upcoming augmented reality glasses, according to two people familiar with the decision. [...]

Meta uses an open-source version of Google’s Android operating system to power Meta’s existing Oculus Quest VR devices. But Meta wanted to create an OS from scratch to power them and future devices, a project that became known internally as XROS. XR is a catch-all term for VR, AR, and mixed reality. In MR, the wearer of a headset could view and use real-world objects, such as a keyboard, to do work or play games in a VR-like app.

Instead, the company has told some staff it would continue to modify an open-source version of Android, which Google developed for smartphones but which other companies have used to power various devices, the people familiar with the matter said. Meta’s modified version of Android, known internally as VROS, powers existing Oculus VR headsets.

Hard to say what this means. Operating systems are hard — there are only a handful of successful ones in the world.

I wonder if this is sort of like the early days of Apple’s iPhone efforts, when there were two competing OS teams inside Apple: a Scott Forstall/Bertrand Serlet-led team trying to shrink Mac OS X down to run on a phone, and a Tony Fadell/Jon Rubinstein/Steve Sakoman-led team trying to scale the iPod’s embedded Linux OS up to serve as a phone OS. [Update, 25 February 2022:On the Origin of the iPhone” explains, in some detail, why Tony Fadell’s name is struck-through above.]

Maybe what happened at Facebook isn’t so much “We give up on our own new OS, let’s just use Android”, but more like “Our effort to build our own OS atop Android is working better, let’s go with that one”. Facebook’s Oculus device OS as it stands today doesn’t resemble Google’s Android that runs on phones and tablets. It’s their own fork of Android. I don’t think they’re dependent on Google in any way with this.

Update: Also interesting is that Mark Lucovsky, the leader of Facebook’s XROS team, left the company in November, apparently because he only just then realized that Facebook is a spectacularly shitty company:

Contacted by The Information, Lucovsky said in a text message: “I made my decision to leave Facebook after the 60 Minutes interview [with Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen] on 10/4, subsequent readings of the material supplied to the SEC, and the company’s new metaverse-centric focus.”

Facebook cancelled the XROS project shortly after Lucovsky quit.

(Via 9to5 Mac.)

Wednesday, 5 January 2022