Picture: Lex Fridman
In a podcast, John Carmack lays out what virtual reality needs for mainstream success: a better user experience, not better hardware.
In the latest episode of the Boz to the Future podcast, Carmack sat down for an hour with Meta’s CTO Andrew Bosworth to talk about the state of AI and virtual reality.
The former Oculus CTO played a leading role in developing the software required for mobile VR headsets, including Meta Quest. He left Meta for good in late 2022 to pursue AGI research and later founded an AI startup, Keen Technologies.
Toward the end of the podcast, Bosworth asks Carmack in what direction he thinks VR hardware needs to evolve to become mainstream. Carmack sort of dodges the question, saying the focus needs to be on improving the user experience. He says there’s no need for futuristic hardware; the ingredients for a VR breakthrough already exist, and success is “just a matter of doing it”.
Carmack is still bullish on VR
Carmack’s answer reiterates what he has said on previous occasions about his vision for VR headsets as a mainstream product. Because the answer summarizes its views so well, it is reproduced in its entirety below.
In the podcast, Carmack again criticizes Meta, which he also left out of frustration with its inefficiency in VR product development. However, the legendary programmer stresses that he is still optimistic about the future of the technology. “I still think it’s a great bet, and it’s Meta’s to lose at this point.”
John Carmack’s take on what VR needs for mainstream success
Andrew Bosworth: Your vision for Quest hardware has always been light, cheap, and fast. If you had to pick one vector to push on for future VR hardware, what would it be?
John Carmack: Yes, you want to be all that. You want to be lightweight, comfortable, you need to be cheap. It needs to be available to everyone.
We should be still looking at the things that people do, like your cell phone or your tablet. I always tell people to make this consideration: If the VR experience [is] about how tedious it was to start, or how much glitchiness there was, or the limited availability of the things you wanted to do, if that was on your phone, what would your phone be like? If you had to set up and acknowledge Guardian every time that you started it up? If you had to wait for your controllers to wake up before you could start using doing inputs there?
So getting to that point, not just light and cheap, but it should also be instant. You should just be able to pull it up and put it on your head to like just glance over there to look at something as easily as you would look at your watch. I think that level of feedback and the lack of latency is critically important.
But then it needs to just be able to actually do all of the things that people want to do. And I keep saying how VR needs to displace all of these other devices. Where for the early adopters, the people that are at that leading edge, they buy everything. You get a VR headset in addition to your second, third, fourth TV, and your tablet, and your Chromebook and all of these things. But to get to the whole world, it needs to replace those things. It needs to go ahead and say: well, if you buy the VR headset, you don’t need to buy this Chromebook, you can just attach a keyboard to it. You don’t need to buy this extra TV, you’ve got your big screen theater there. You don’t need this tablet, this is going to be able to run the Android apps directly there.
And the super frustrating thing is like: all of that is just right there for us. It’s just a matter of doing it. We don’t need to wait for magical MicroLED silicon carbide displays whatever to create this value. We just need to go do it. The programmers just need to do this instead of that.
So, I’m still very bullish. It’s going to happen. The value of HMDs is extremely large. They can be cheaper than cell phones, in some ways. They can have all of these abilities while providing the big screen value. They can have the unique advantage of virtual reality with the spatial movement and the hand tracking and the things that we’re doing with that, while subsuming all of these other things.
I still think it’s a great bet, and it’s Meta’s to lose at this point.