Meta’s chip deal with Qualcomm may reflect its unrealized VR ambitions

Qualcomm and Meta have signed a multi-year deal that promises to team up on custom versions of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon XR chips for “future roadmaps for Quest products” and “other devices,” as Mark Zuckerberg put it.

While the move is in some ways business as usual — the Quest 2 is powered by the Snapdragon XR2 chipset — it could provide insight into Meta’s trade-offs as it faces declining revenue and tries to keep the rising expenses of Mark’s metaverse project in check. .

What the Qualcomm deal shows is that Meta’s upcoming headsets, which reportedly include a high-end headset codenamed Cambria and later new versions of the cheaper Quest headset, won̵[ads1]7;t run on fully custom Meta-designed silicon.

This is despite competing companies like Apple, Amazon and Google making product decisions around custom chip designs like the M2, Graviton3 and Tensor – and the fact that Meta has had a team dedicated to doing the same since 2018. This press release says the chips will be “adapted” for Meta’s needs. Still, we don’t know how much space it can put between the “premium” devices and other manufacturers’ hardware close to Qualcomm’s Snapdragon XR reference design.

In April, The Verge reported that Meta employees were working with semiconductor fabs — the companies that actually manufacture the physical chips — to create custom chips for the as-yet-unannounced AR headset. The same month, The information reported that some of Meta’s efforts to create custom chips hit roadblocks, pushing it to use a Qualcomm chip for second-generation Ray-Bay smart glasses instead of its own silicon.

Qualcomm reference design for wired and wireless smart glasses

Qualcomm reference design for wired and wireless smart glasses

Tyler Yee, a Meta spokesperson, said the company does not discuss details of how the roadmap has evolved and would not comment on any specific plans it may have had for custom chips for Quest products. However, Yee shared a statement about the company’s “general approach to custom silicon,” saying that Meta does not believe in a “one-size-fits-all approach” to the technology powering its future devices.

“There may be situations where we use off-the-shelf silicon or collaborate with industrial partners on adaptations, while at the same time exploring our own new silicon solutions. There may also be scenarios where we use both partner and special solutions in the same product.” he said. “It’s about doing what it takes to create the best metaverse experiences possible.”

The backdrop for all this is a company facing a lot of pressure. Meta’s revenue has fallen for the first time (thanks in part to Apple’s changes to how apps are allowed to track users), and Zuckerberg explicitly stated plans to turn up the heat on employees while admitting, “I think some of you might just say that this place is not for you. And that self-selection is fine with me.” At the same time, he is betting massively on the metaverse – the company spends and loses billions of dollars per year on the project, which includes AR and VR headsets.

It’s a high-stakes game that the Meta will presumably play as close to its chest as possible. But for now, it looks like hardware customers will be accessing Zuckerberg’s Metaverse with (if at all) rather than just playing Beat Saber) will remain powered by someone else’s chips.

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