Meta says fewer Quest 3s are gathering dust – is VR’s biggest issue a thing of the past?

During this year’s Game Developers Conference (GDC 2024) Meta has revealed that the Meta Quest 3 has higher retention rates than any of its previous VR headsets – suggesting one of VR’s biggest problems might be a thing of the past.

VR gadgets have become incredibly popular in recent years – just look at the sales success of the Oculus Quest 2, and the massive hype around the Apple Vision Pro – but there’s been a quiet killer for them all: retention. According to an internal report shared by The Verge in March 2023, Meta was concerned about the relatively low engagement of Quest 2 users and it was apparently stressed to staff by  Mark Rabkin, Meta’s vice president of VR, that the company needs to “be better at growth and retention.”

That emphasis seems to have paid off, with it now being said by Chris Pruett, Meta's Director of Content Ecosystem, that the Quest 3 has a higher retention rate than any previous Meta / Oculus headset.

Why are people using their Meta Quest 3 more? 

Meta hasn’t given any direct explanation of why its headsets are proving better at retaining owners’ attention than its predecessors, but we have more than a few theories.

Meta Quest 3 missing its faceplate showing its insides

The Quest 3’s better specs and software is a big win (Image credit: iFixit)

The first, and perhaps most important, is the Quest 3's simplicity. If it’s charged up you can just slip it on and start playing a VR game instantly – unlike older PCVR models. This reason is likely also why the original Oculus Quest had the highest retention of any Oculus headset ever according to John Carmack in 2019 (Via UploadVR)

Another likely reason the Quest 3 has been able to take things up a notch in terms of retention is software. The Quest store has been up and running for roughly five years, and in that time developers have created a superb VR catalog of cross-platform and exclusive software.

The Quest 3 has also raised the bar with good specs, and solid mixed reality passthrough, adding even more opportunities for app creators to develop meaningful software that owners want to use regularly. 

This, and the headset’s less bulky and comfier-to-wear design, are, as we see it, the two biggest reasons why we’ve started using the device more regularly than the Quest 2.

Lastly, there’s a belief that the Quest 3’s higher cost could be helping its retention levels. At $ 299 / £299 / AU$ 479 the Quest 2 was almost a tech impulse buy – especially considering it also came out not long before the pandemic, a period when people typically had more disposable income. 

Whereas at $ 499.99 / £479.99 / AU$ 799.99 – and launching at a time when disposable income is typically a lot lower – the Quest 3 is much more of a considered purchase. So if you aren’t planning to use the new Meta device fairly often, you’re more likely to talk yourself out of buying it.

A Meta Quest 3 owner playing tennis in VR while in their dorm room with their desk behind them.

(Image credit: Meta)

Why does higher retention matter? 

Beyond making it easier to get a VR squad together to play a multiplayer game, why does a higher retention rate matter to you or us?

From a hardware perspective, it suggests that the Quest 3 is doing something right – whether it's the mixed reality focus, its newfound balance of specs and cost, or a mixture of factors. This could clue us into what future devices might look like; specifically that they could try to follow the Quest 3’s lead by leaning further into mixed reality, or the mainline Quest headset maintaining a similar price point (in exchange for better specs) – which could pave the way for the rumored cheaper Meta Quest 3 Lite.

It may also encourage more VR software development, as it shows developers that there is a reliable market for meaningful VR software. So if you have a Quest headset already, you might see more and better apps launch in the future.

Given Meta made the announcement at GDC 2024, it's likely hoping that this latter point proves true. However, given the speed of hardware and software development, we'll likely have a little while to wait and see what the Quest 3’s newfound popularity means in practical terms.

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This bonkers Apple patent could solve one of VR’s biggest problems

Apple might have found a wild solution to VR’s prescription lens problem; liquid lenses.

VR headsets and glasses don’t usually mix well. Often they sit too close to your face for glasses to fit in front of your eyes, and the solutions deployed by headset designers are a mixed bag – some package in optional spacers that make room for specs like the Oculus Quest 2, while others include a prescription lens attachment (but you need to buy lenses for it at an added cost) like the Apple Vision Pro, and a few do nothing at all.

This has resulted in some glasses wearers feeling like VR isn’t accessible to them, but that might change if Apple’s latest patent comes to one of its headsets.

According to the patent granted in the US (via Apple Insider) Apple has created a design for an “electronic device with liquid lenses.”  The document describes a “head-mounted device” (sounds like a VR headset) with “tunable liquid lenses.” You can read the patent for the full details, but the TL;DR is that electronic signals sent to the lenses will deform the liquid in them and alter the refractive index of the lenses. 

This should allow the liquid lenses to correct a wide range of eyesight issues without the need for any accessories. What’s more, the correction is calibrated by the headset’s eye-tracking system.

Apple’s patent also states that it could apply to a “pair of glasses.” We can’t read too much into patent wordings, but this could hint at the Apple AR glasses that Apple apparently also has in development.

When will we get liquid lenses? 

Apple logo seen through a pair of glasses

Apple’s liquid lenses could bring VR and AR into focus (Image credit: Shutterstock / Girts Ragelis)

As with all patents we need to note that there’s no guarantee that we’ll ever see these liquid lenses appear in a real headset – one that’s made by Apple or otherwise. While the design exists in theory, it might be less than practical to add liquid lenses to a commercially available headset – either from a design or cost perspective. Alternatively, Apple might develop a different solution to VR’s prescription problem.

What’s more, even if liquid lenses do appear in an Apple headset you or I could pick up off the shelf there’s no telling when that will happen.

It’s probably an impossibility for the first-generation Vision Pro to launch in early 2024, and we’d be surprised if it appeared in the second-generation headset that rumors predict will appear sometime in the next few years. Instead, it seems far more likely we’d see liquid lenses in the third-generation model (assuming we see them at all) in half a decade or so – as this would give Apple plenty of time to hone the design.

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