In today’s fast-paced world of technology, social interactions have become a significant part of our digital lives. As we immerse ourselves in the world of extended reality (XR) and virtual experiences, the battle for creating a cohesive and engaging social ecosystem on XR headsets is heating up. Apple’s Vision Pro and Meta’s Quest platforms are at the forefront of this competition, each with a distinct approach to social interaction. In this article, we will delve into the strategies employed by these tech giants and explore how Apple’s SharePlay feature is changing the social landscape on Vision Pro.
A Clash of Social Strategies
Meta, formerly known as Facebook, has long been a leader in the world of social media. It seemed like the ideal candidate to create a rich social experience on XR headsets. However, even after a decade of XR platform development, interacting with friends on Meta’s headsets remains a fragmented experience. On the Quest platform, social engagement is a complex puzzle with different apps, invite systems, avatars, and interfaces, making it a far cry from the seamless and cohesive experience users desire.
Meta’s attempt to create a ‘metaverse’ concept with Horizon Worlds, a space for building virtual experiences, has faced challenges. While it holds potential, the social experience outside of Horizon remains disjointed. Users find themselves navigating a labyrinth of apps, each with its own set of rules and interfaces. Some apps use Meta’s invite system, while others have their own. The result is a disjointed user experience, making even simple activities like watching a movie or listening to music a cumbersome task.
On the other hand, Apple’s Vision Pro takes a fundamentally different approach by making social interaction the norm rather than the exception. Apple offers a common set of tools and guidelines to developers, encouraging them to create a cohesive social experience across the platform. Unlike Meta’s vision of a metaverse filled with virtual strangers, Apple’s aim is to enable users to easily share their interests with their existing circle of friends.
Apple’s Game-Changing Social Feature
SharePlay is a feature already present on Apple’s iOS and MacOS devices, allowing users to watch, listen, and experience apps together through FaceTime. With Vision Pro, Apple aims to make many of its first-party apps, such as Apple TV, Apple Music, and Photos, social right out of the box. Developers are encouraged to integrate SharePlay into their apps, with Apple expecting “most visionOS apps to support SharePlay.”
At WWDC, Apple revealed its plans to expand SharePlay on Vision Pro. SharePlay apps will support ‘Spatial Personas,’ which are avatars generated from a scan of the user’s face. This ensures a common look for all participants, creating a cohesive and immersive experience. Apple also provides pre-configured room layouts designed for specific content, simplifying the user experience. Whether you’re watching a movie or collaborating on a project, Vision Pro offers tailored templates to enhance the social interaction.
One notable feature of SharePlay is its ability to keep apps synchronized between users with low-latency, end-to-end encrypted data sharing. This ensures that users can have fun with friends without concerns about privacy or external interference.
Sharing with Your Existing Social Circle
What sets Vision Pro apart from Meta’s Quest is its emphasis on using your existing personal friend graph. Instead of creating a separate friends list within Vision Pro, Apple leverages the people you already connect with through texts, calls, or emails. SharePlay focuses on bringing your friends into the experience seamlessly. You can start a group by making a FaceTime call to a friend you already know, creating a virtual face-to-face chat before deciding on your next activity.
For example, if you want to watch a movie, you can launch Apple TV and enjoy it with your friend by your side. And when you finish the movie and feel like discussing it, you can switch to Spotify and play the movie’s soundtrack while chatting. Even apps that don’t inherently support multi-user experiences can become ‘social’ by allowing one user to screen-share the app with others, promoting discussion and interaction.
This ‘social by default’ approach, centered around the things you already do and the people you already know, sets Vision Pro apart from Meta’s fragmented social landscape.
The Echo of Past Experiments
Interestingly, Meta previously experimented with a similar approach to social XR with Facebook Spaces, which leveraged existing Facebook friends to create a template-style layout for social interactions. It had the potential to create a more cohesive social experience. However, Meta’s lack of follow-through and platform-wide expectations led to the discontinuation of Spaces in 2019. Nevertheless, there were lessons to be learned from this endeavor.
A Paradigm Shift in Social XR?
Apple’s SharePlay feature on Vision Pro is undoubtedly a game-changer in the world of XR social experiences. By making basic apps social out of the box and focusing on the user’s existing social circle, Vision Pro simplifies social interactions and bridges the gap between physical and virtual connections. It challenges the fragmented approach adopted by Meta on Quest, offering users a more seamless and integrated social experience.
While SharePlay may have limitations when it comes to complex multiplayer gaming experiences, it excels in promoting everyday social interactions with friends. The emphasis on ‘social by default’ and the integration of familiar activities make Vision Pro an appealing choice for those looking to connect in the world of extended reality.