Meta halts development of Apple Watch rival with two cameras

The technology company continues to work on several other wrist-worn devices

Meta chief executive Mark Zuckerberg holds a pair of touch controllers for the Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets. Reuters
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Facebook parent company Meta Platforms has halted the development of a smartwatch with dual cameras and is working on other devices for the wrist, a source has said.

The device, which has been in development for at least two years, was designed to include several features common in other smartwatches, including activity tracking, music playback and messaging.

A prototype of the now halted device includes dual-cameras, a key differentiator from market leaders such as Apple Watch. One camera was located below the display and another sat on the backside against the wearer’s wrist, according to images and video of a prototype seen by Bloomberg reporters.

The second camera was designed so users could remove the watch face from its strap to quickly take pictures.

However, the presence of the camera caused issues with another feature for translating nerve signals from the wrist into digital commands the source said. Having that technical ability, known as electromyography, is a top priority for Meta.

Meta has touted the benefits of electromyography as a way of using a person’s hands as a “controller” for other devices, including those geared towards the metaverse.

“This is about decoding those signals at the wrist — the actions you have already decided to perform — and translating them into digital commands for your device,” a blog post from Meta published earlier this year said.

Meta executives have discussed the potential of smartwatches as part of its vision for the metaverse, an immersive version of the internet where people will interact with other users as digital avatars.

Sensors within wrist devices could be used to help people to control their avatar or interact with what they observe through a pair of augmented reality glasses, for example.

Meta is still working on several other wrist-worn devices.  AFP

Despite the dual-camera device being put on ice, Meta is still working on several other wrist-worn devices.

Employees working on the watch, code-named Milan, were told this week that the device is no longer on track for production, the source said. It was originally set to be released in spring 2023 at a price point of about $349, they said.

A Meta representative declined to comment.

Cost cuts probably also played a role in the company’s decision to stop development of the watch.

Meta executives said on an earnings call in April that the company’s annual expenses would decrease by $3 billion this year, given a broader business slowdown.

That has also affected hiring at Meta, where filling some management roles has been paused or slowed in recent months.

General cost cutting means prioritising certain projects and efforts over others, chief executive Mark Zuckerberg told investors at the time.

Some of the features developed for the dual-camera watch could still appear in future products. The prototype device seen by Bloomberg had the following features:

  • A removable watch face with a gold-coloured casing. The case has two buttons on the side, including a long, pill-shaped one and a small circular control.
  • Dual cameras: A five-megapixel camera on the front of the watch face, and a 12-megapixel camera on the back side of the watch for use when the face has been detached.
  • Wi-Fi, GPS and cellular connectivity via eSIM.
  • Apps for Spotify, WhatsApp, Instagram Stories, daily activity tracking, workouts, the photo gallery, heart rate monitoring, calendar, settings and breathing.
  • 18 hours of battery life.

The watch also included a notification centre and lock screen but did not have a built-in App Store and users would have manage apps and features from their Facebook account.

Wearers would also have been able to post details of their fitness activities or achievements directly to Facebook and Instagram from the device.

An image of the prototype first appeared inside of Meta’s app to manage its Ray-Ban Stories smart glasses and was published by Bloomberg last year. Some prior details of the device were also previously reported by The Verge.

Updated: June 09, 2022, 9:16 AM