Weekend Roundup: Apple Arcade Strategy Shift; Facebook VR Glasses

It’s the holiday weekend! Whether you’re participating in a socially-distanced BBQ or just sticking at home by yourself, it’s a good time to take stock and relax. In the meantime, here were some of the interesting tech stories from the week—including Facebook’s funky VR experiment and some rumblings about the state of Apple Arcade. 

Is Apple Arcade in Trouble?

Apple Arcade represents something of a bold bet for Apple: In exchange for a monthly fee, subscribers have access to a wide variety of games, without any of the in-app purchases or other annoyances that plague the mobile gaming world at the moment. 

Why is the bet a bold one? For starters, the mobile-gaming world is crowded with offerings; although Apple has a huge marketing budget (and can push its own apps and services aggressively via the Apple Store), it still needs to fight for attention. Second, it doesn’t matter how much money’s involved—if the games are terrible, finicky players simply won’t plop down their $4.99 per month. 

Apple Arcade had its splashy debut last September, with some sources predicting it would hit 12 million users by the end of 2020. However, the platform might be struggling, according to a new Bloomberg report that suggests Apple is retooling its games portfolio and how it deals with developers. Sources told Bloomberg that Apple has not only canceled a number of games over the past few months, but also informed developers that it wants to focus more on “engagement.” In other words, the company is more interested in having select games that people will want to play over and over again, rather than a massive collection of titles that folks will play just a few times before abandoning.

That’s not to say that Apple Arcade is in existential trouble—remember, Apple can throw infinite amounts of money at an initiative. However, the need for sustained engagement suggests that more than a few subscribers aren’t sticking with the platform. For developers who are interested in eventually having a game featured on Apple Arcade, keep this strategy pivot in mind when designing your next iOS masterpiece. 

Facebook’s New VR Glasses

If someone says, “virtual reality,” you probably think of a bulky headset that weighs almost as much as your head. Facebook is developing VR hardware that’s the polar opposite of that: so thin and light you might mistake it for a pair of sunglasses (at a distance, at least):

A posting on Facebook’s research blog shows what exactly has gone into this new prototype, technology-wise; the accompanying research paper digs deep into the underlying science. “While it points toward the future development of lightweight, comfortable, and high-performance AR/VR technology, at present our work is purely research,” the posting cautioned. “To our knowledge, our work demonstrates the thinnest VR display demonstrated to date, and we’re excited to see what the future holds.” 

It’s clear that one of the keys to mass VR (and AR) adoption is a headset that’s cheap, light, and easy to use. Facebook is almost certainly interested in making that happen. Apple is also reportedly working hard on a sunglasses-like headset for augmented reality (AR) that tethers to an iPhone. If any of these devices hit the market in the next few years and prove a hit, it could radically change how often we use AR and VR in daily life.

Microsoft Stores Shut Down

Technically, this happened late last week, but it’s still worth mentioning nonetheless: Microsoft Stores are shutting down after 11 years of trying to emulate (and beat) Apple Stores. If you’ve been following the tech industry throughout that time, you’ll no doubt recall how closely the Microsoft Stores attempted to copy their Apple brethren, right down to the blonde-wood product tables and the focus on in-store events such as workshops.

In some malls, Microsoft even decided to open Microsoft Stores directly across from Apple Stores, for reasons that some pundits found hard to fathom. Although Apple Stores have generally proven a resounding retail success, Microsoft Stores struggled to bring in the same level of crowds and revenue. 

Fortunately, Microsoft seems determined to shift its store associates to remote work, including training Microsoft customers. As a result, the company is still paying its retail team members, which is a classy touch during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Have a great weekend, everyone! Remember to keep washing those hands!