Tim Cook's Apple is coming for Zuckerberg's metaverse

·3 min read

Apple’s (AAPL) next major product, an AR/VR headset, is expected to be unveiled at its WWDC event in June. And that puts the company and CEO Tim Cook on a direct collision course with market leader Meta.

In an interview with GQ, Cook lays out his vision for an AR/VR device and how it could help consumers. And, likely to the chagrin of Meta (META) CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Cook says the gadget could “greatly enhance people’s communication, people’s connection."

While he doesn’t mention Meta, or confirm a headset is on its way, Cook’s statement is, nonetheless, a shot across the company’s bow. Zuckerberg and company have been working on their AR/VR headsets for years, ever since the company acquired headset maker Oculus in 2014 for $2 billion.

Part of that effort has been developing the metaverse, a series of interconnected online worlds where users can, you guessed it: communicate and connect.

Meta currently offers its Meta Horizon Worlds, a kind of early version of the metaverse where users can meet up as virtual avatars and play games, watch concerts, or just hang out and chat. Meta is also collaborating with Microsoft (MSFT) to bring that company’s Teams and Microsoft 365 productivity apps to its Quest headsets.

Apple CEO Tim Cook attends the Apple Original Series
Apple CEO Tim Cook attends the Apple Original Series "Ted Lasso" Season 3 Red Carpet Premiere at Westwood Village Theater, Los Angeles, California, U.S., March 7, 2023. REUTERS/David Swanson

While Meta’s efforts are largely based around VR at this point, Zuckerberg’s ultimate goal is to make a lightweight headset that can overlay the virtual world onto the physical world via augmented reality. And that’s exactly what Cook is setting his sights on.

“It’s the idea that there is this environment that may be even better than just the real world—to overlay the virtual world on top of it might be an even better world,” Cook said.

That’s exactly the kind of world Meta and Zuckerberg are hoping to occupy, as well. The company already has a decent lead on Apple, with 22 million Quest headsets in the wild. But Apple has already proven time and again that it can enter an established space as a newcomer and effectively take over to become the dominant force.

Look no further than the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and AirPods for proof that Apple can take on an incumbent and leave it in the dust.

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Apple and Meta have an acrimonious relationship. The iPhone maker’s privacy stance has limited Meta’s ability to track users while browsing the web via Safari or across apps via its App Tracking Transparency (ATT). ATT allows users to choose whether they want apps to track them across other apps and the web. Turning down the option means Meta doesn’t get as good of a look at consumers’ browsing habits, hurting its ability to sell targeted ads.

Meta estimates the feature cost the company as much as $10 billion in 2022 alone.

Meta now appears to be moving beyond that roadblock but is now contending with a slowdown in the digital advertising market.

Cook has also repeatedly called out app developers for vacuuming up user data, hitting on the topic during press events and college commencement speeches.

Meta, for its part, struck back at Apple, assisting Epic Games in its antitrust suit against the tech giant. In that suit, Epic challenged Apple’s ability to force app makers to use its own Apple Store payment methods.

For now, Meta is still the AR/VR market leader. But with Apple’s headset on the way, that could all change soon.

By Daniel Howley, tech editor at Yahoo Finance. Follow him @DanielHowley

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