Meta is gearing up for Connect, its annual event devoted to all things VR, AR and the metaverse. This year, the company is once again set to show off a new VR headset, with the Meta Quest 3, as well as its next-generation smart glasses.
It’s also an opportunity for Meta to showcase some of its latest AI advancements, which will reportedly come in the form of new generative AI chatbots. This year will also mark the return of an in-person component to Connect, which has been online-only since 2020. The main keynote will still be livestreamed for remote viewers, but the change will hopefully make for a more lively event than the largely pre-recorded sessions of the past few years.
Here’s a rundown of everything we’re expecting to hear about during Mark Zuckerberg’s keynote, which kicks off at 1PM ET on September 27.
Meta Quest 3 and second-gen Ray-Ban Stories update
We already know quite a bit about the Meta Quest 3, thanks to a preview from Zuckerberg earlier this year. The $499 headset has been considerably slimmed down from its predecessors and comes with redesigned controllers. It will also have better graphics and run on a new “next-gen” Qualcomm chipset, which will power new mixed-reality features akin to last year’s high-end Quest Pro. But with an official reveal at Connect, we should finally get a lot more details about the Quest 3 and its capabilities.
The VR headset likely isn’t the only Reality Labs gadget we’ll hear more about. As UploadVR noted last week, Meta CTO Andrew Bosworth recently hinted that a second-generation of Meta’s Ray-Ban-branded smart glasses are also in the works and coming "pretty soon." The new frames are expected to come with better cameras and some new features, like livestreaming, according to Janko Roettgers of the Lowpass newsletter. It’s not clear when the glasses could make an official debut — unlike the Quest 3, Meta has been fairly tight-lipped about its plans for the product — but considering Bosworth’s comments and earlier reports of a possible fall launch, it seems safe to say we’ll at least get an update on their plans.
Meta has at least one other major piece of hardware in the works, the augmented reality glasses it’s been teasing since 2020. Last year at Connect, Zuckerberg showed off a prototype for a wrist-based controller that could have AR applications, but didn’t offer a look at how the glasses themselves are progressing.
That could change this year. The Verge previously reported the company is readying a pair of smart glasses, which will use the wrist-based interface, for a 2025 release. Those glasses, however, would be something of a precursor to “full-fledged AR glasses,” which are slated for 2027. Given the timeframe, it seems more likely we’ll hear about the former, wrist-controlled frames, rather than the more ambitious AR ones, but it would make sense for the company to preview more details about the project.
Chatbots and AI
It looks like Meta is set to (once again) borrow a page from Snap’s playbook with a generative AI assistant. The Wall Street Journal reported this week that Meta is readying dozens AI chatbots with distinct personalities in a bid to attract younger users.
Zuckerberg has been teasing the idea of “AI personas” for Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger for some time. But it now sounds as if Meta intends for these AI personalities to play a role in its VR applications as well. According to The Journal, these bots, which have names like “Alvin the Alien” and “Bob the Robot,” will also live in the company’s metaverse apps. While many aspects of the plan sound a bit cringey — and even some Meta employees are reportedly skeptical of the bots — it offers an interesting window into how Meta is using AI to boost interest in the metaverse. Which brings us to…
What about the metaverse?
The company once known as Facebook has now had nearly two years to sell the public on its vision for the metaverse. So far, that’s largely fallen flat. Reality Labs losses have ballooned to more than $20 billion since last year and are expected to climb further. Meta’s investors have been openly skeptical, while new metaverse features, like the addition of legged avatars, have proved underwhelming.
Meta Quest v57 PTC finally adds legs to your Meta avatar :D pic.twitter.com/3dzuuppp6e
— Luna (@Lunayian) August 29, 2023
So it’s not surprising that in recent months Zuckerberg has spent more time publicly hyping the company’s AI investments than the metaverse (though he’s said the company remains committed to both). So while Meta will likely share updates on Horizon Worlds, which recently began rolling out to non-VR platforms, I expect Zuckerberg and other executives will highlight the role AI plays in its vision for the metaverse much more than they have in the past.
Though the current AI boom and rise of large-language models has drawn its share of critics, the technology has already generated much more enthusiasm than the metaverse ever has. That could end up working in Meta’s favor if it can recast some of its metaverse projects as cutting-edge AI innovation rather than a virtual world most people don’t really understand.
Update September 26 12:30PM ET: This story was modified after publish to include the starting time of the Meta Connect keynote.