John Carmack: ‘There’s a Bunch That I’m Grumpy About’

Kyle Orland, reporting for Ars Technica on Facebook “executive advisor” John Carmack’s unscripted (and un-legged) talk at their Meta Connect virtual conference last week:

As a “counterpoint” to the push for the Quest Pro in the Meta offices, Carmack says he “personally still [tries] to drum up interest internally in this vision of a super cheap, super lightweight headset.” His rallying cry, he says, is a target of “$250 and 250 grams” for a headset that cuts out as many extraneous features as possible while still being usable (the Quest Pro weighs 722 grams, while the Quest 2 is 503 grams). That could help bring “super light comforts” to “more people at low-end price points. [...] We’re not building that headset today, but I keep trying,” Carmack said with some exasperation.

Carmack also cautioned that developing for the Quest Pro and then “crunching it down” for Quest 2 users could lead to some “tragically bad decisions” if you’re not testing on the cheaper headset as well. “The low-end system is going to be where all your real customers are,” he warned.

That’s the catch-22. If the software is written to target the $400 Quest 2, what’s the point of buying the $1,500 Quest Pro? But if the software is written to take full advantage of the Quest Pro, what kind of experience do Quest 2 users get? This entire endeavor is not going well for Facebook — at least yet — but it seems clear that one fundamental mistake they made is selling consumer-priced hardware years before the user experience for $400 VR headsets is any good at all. Just because you want to sell $400 headsets doesn’t mean you should.

Compare and contrast with Apple, whose long-rumored upcoming headset is purported to have a starting price of $2,000. (Keep in mind that while still merely rumored, the iPad was expected to start at $1,000 but in fact started at $500.) Better to start with a great experience at a high price than a crummy experience at a low price. Set the baseline for a great experience and it will trickle down to lower price points year after year. Few new platforms ever get off the ground starting with a crap experience, no matter their price.

Throughout his talk, Carmack seemed to reserve the bulk of his grumpiness for one core area of concern: “The basic usability of Quest really does need to get better.”

For instance, you currently either need to leave your Quest 2 on and plugged in to download frequent OS and app updates, or sit through a lengthy “update hell” almost every time you pick up the headset. That leads to a lot of VR sessions that are “aborted in frustration,” Carmack said (though he hoped that the Quest Pro charging dock could help with this problem in aggregate).

Carmack shared word of internal posts from Meta employees bemoaning a 20-minute, multi-reboot process to get an old headset ready for the Connect presentation that day. He also talked about tales of Quest owners who don’t even get their headsets out to show off to houseguests because of the anticipated hassle of setting everything up for a demo.

And once a headset is up and running, Carmack complained about how slow and awkward it is to connect to other people in Meta’s metaverse. “Our app startup times are slow, our transitions are glitchy,” he said, bluntly. “We need to make it a whole lot better ... much, much faster to get into.”

Underpowered hardware and clunky software do not make for a good pairing.

Monday, 17 October 2022