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Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook have a plan to kill the iPhone

Michael Cogley
·5-min read
iphne
iphne

Video calling has become a staple of staying connected during the pandemic. Even technology’s fiercest critics could not begrudge the industry for making available a mode of communication that made lockdown much easier than it could have been.

But despite it being a crutch that so many of us rely upon, it may not be the go-to for long - at least, that’s if you believe Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg.

In the future we’re more likely to be wearing a dashing pair of specs kitted out with augmented reality.

What they will allow us to do is project a hologram of our friend or loved one nearby and allow us to interact with virtual objects, like a deck of playing cards.

It’s very Star Wars - but as we’ve seen with “live” performances from deceased rapper Tupac Shakur and soul icon Whitney Houston, holograms are no future-gazing fantasy.

In recent comments promoting Facebook's latest virtual reality headset, the Oculus Quest 2, Zuckerberg did not attack Apple specifically, but suggested that the future of communication would not have physical screens. One could perhaps read this as Zuckerberg sounding the death knell of the iPhone, Apple’s most successful product ever.

“When I look at what we have today, you know, on our phones, the phones are pretty amazing, you have this incredibly powerful computer in your pocket,” he told tech reviewer Marques Brownlee.

“But it's not the end of the line, right? There's all these things that I think are not that good about it, right? It pulls you away from the world around you. It's anything but immersive, right? It's a small screen. So the question that I've been asking is, what's the next wave of technology? And what's the next platform going to be? And what's that going to deliver for how we all connect.”

For Zuckerberg, the next platform is going to be augmented reality or “AR”, a technology in which virtual objects are projected into and interact with the real world. The filters that change the appearance of someone’s face on Snapchat or Instagram are an example of AR. Indeed, Apple showed it off on its latest iPad Pro, demonstrating how you could see how a piece of furniture fit in a room by projecting an armchair into a space on the floor.

Like Facebook, Apple too is believed to be working on its own AR glasses - despite the initial failure of Google Glass. Apple’s glasses are likely to need to connect with an iPhone, however, in the same way that the Apple Watch does.

It is here where Zuckerberg and Tim Cook differ. Zuckerberg believes there will be no need for the phone, in fact there will be no need for any screens whatsoever.

“I mean, one kind of trippy thing that I think about that's further out is, once we have really good mature AR glasses, we won't even necessarily need other kinds of screens anymore," he said. “Things like TVs, you know, tablets, all these things could just be digital holograms.”

Who runs Facebook? | The management team
Who runs Facebook? | The management team

Zuckerberg went one further on his veiled slight against Apple - which is planning to make a change to the iPhone's software with the potential to significantly hobble Facebook's ad revenues - and said he was keen to avoid glasses that effectively “put an Apple Watch on your face”.

For some, the Facebook chief’s ambitions remain some way into the future, and the reputational damage the social network has taken may prevent it from nailing the AR market.

“I think the underlying driver for Zuckerberg's vision is purely business, he wants to control the whole ecosystem of people's worlds,” says Carlton Reeve, the head of one of the world’s few dedicated augmented reality courses at the University of Bradford.

“Zuckerberg doesn't want to rely on anyone else's technology, it makes his business weak. I think it would be foolish to ignore the enormous weight and power that Apple exerts through its product line.

“What Apple has which Facebook doesn't is that, amongst consumers at least, Apple is trusted. And it's cool. Facebook isn't cool anymore.”

Despite Reeve’s doubts around Facebook’s ability to convince the masses, he is a strong believer that Zuckerberg’s broad outline of the future could become a reality.

“The pandemic has shown us how quickly we adapt to technologies like Zoom in times of necessity,” he says.

“I think the same is true for the holographic representation of our loved ones. In those times where we can’t be physically close, I can see that coming to the fore and being a really helpful, positive substitute for the real thing.”

Despite Zuckerberg’s ambitions, Facebook has yet to make the most of AR and Apple is seen as a leader in the space, at least so far.

“Apple probably made the most progress in the digital quality of the virtual objects with [how augmented reality is used on its iPads], and what they do with the shading and reflection probes within the object,” says Matt Key, founder of AR marketing platform Reydar.

“The idea with augmented reality and virtual reality is that people see instantly how much of a game changer it is.”

Facebook is playing catch up though. The company is sending hundreds of staff out into the public wearing prototype glasses to start testing the technology, and has said it will launch consumer-grade smart glasses next year, although full augmented reality specs are further off.

Zuckerberg's view of the future is clear: there will be no iPhone.

Do you think Mark Zuckerberg has what it takes to end the dominanceof the iPhone? Let us know in the comments section below.