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

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Qualcomm and Meta have signed a multi-year agreement promising to collaborate on custom versions of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon XR chips for the “future roadmap of Quest products” and “other devices,” such as Mark Zuckerberg said so.

While in some ways the move is just going ahead – the Quest 2 is powered by the Snapdragon XR2 chipset – it could provide insight into Meta’s trade-offs as it faces revenue declines and tries to keep the rising costs of Mark’s metaverse project under control. to keep .

What the Qualcomm deal shows is that Meta’s upcoming headsets, which will reportedly include a high-end headset codenamed Cambria and later new versions of its cheaper Quest headset, won’t work on a fully custom-built, by Meta engineered silicon.

This is despite competing companies such as Apple, Amazon, and Google making product decisions around custom chip designs like M2, Graviton3 and Tensor — and the fact that Meta’s has had a team doing the same since 2018. This press release says the chips will be “customized” for Meta’s needs. Still, we don’t know how much space there may be between its “premium” devices and third-party hardware that closely aligns with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon XR reference designs.

in April, The edge reported that Meta employees were working with semiconductor factories — the companies that produce the physical chips — to create custom chips for the as-yet-unannounced AR headset. That same month, The information reported that some of Meta’s efforts to create custom chips ran into roadblocks, forcing it to use a Qualcomm chip for its second-generation Ray-Bay smart glasses instead of its own silicon.

Qualcomm Reference Designs for Wired and Wireless Smart Glasses
Qualcomm

Tyler Yee, a Meta spokesperson, said the company won’t discuss details of how its roadmap has evolved and won’t comment on specific plans it may have had for custom chips for Quest products. However, Yee did share a statement on the company’s “overall approach to custom silicon,” saying Meta doesn’t 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 work with industrial partners on customizations, while also exploring our own new silicon solutions. There may also be scenarios where we use both partner and custom solutions in the same product.” he said. “It’s about doing what it takes to create the best metaverse experiences possible.”

The background to all this is a company that is under a lot of pressure. Meta’s revenues have fallen for the first time (thanks in part to Apple’s changes to how apps are allowed to track users), and Zuckerberg explicitly stated his intention to put employees at risk, admitting, “I think some of you might just say this place isn’t for you. And that self-selection is okay with me.” At the same time, he’s putting a huge bet on the metaverse – the company is spending and losing billions of dollars a year on the project, which includes AR and VR headsets.

It’s a high stakes game that Meta would presumably want to play as close to the chest as possible. But for now, it looks like the hardware customers will be able to access Zuckerberg’s Metaverse (if they’re going to do that at all, instead of just playing Beat Saber) continues to be powered by someone else’s chips.

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