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Photo Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photos: Picture Alliance, Amy Osborne/Getty Images

Year-end sales numbers are telling Facebook executives that their big bet on hardware is starting to pay off.

Driving the news: Facebook's hardware team found itself just where it hoped to be for the holiday shopping season: under the Christmas tree, with both Quest 2 VR systems and Portal smart screens delivering better-than-expected sales.

Why it matters: Hardware isn't where Facebook makes its money, but homegrown devices are key to its strategic future.

  • When Facebook builds a device, it has much more control over the experience, and the business, than when it creates software to run on other companies' devices — particularly those made by Apple, with whom the company is increasingly at odds.

Facebook hardware chief Andrew Bosworth, a longtime executive known for frank assessments of Facebook's wins and missteps, told Axios he was encouraged that it took just seven weeks in the market for the Oculus Quest 2 to surpass the original Quest in terms of active monthly users.

  • "The curve has a really nice shape to it," said Bosworth, who cites the data in a post going live today.
  • Observers also noted that the Oculus app was near the top of the iOS download charts just after Christmas. (A spike in app downloads is often a good indicator of how many people just got new hardware for the holidays.)

"Christmas Day unboxing was a fun day for us," Bosworth said.

  • Facebook also built enough of the new Oculus to avoid the shortages that plagued the first Oculus Quest through much of 2020.

The big picture: Bosworth isn't sharing hard sales numbers. He said they're less important to Facebook right now than ensuring developers can finally make money building apps for VR.

  • "For a long time, VR has been a leap of faith for developers," he said. "We now have lots of successful profitable VR developers."

Bosworth recalled a comment Bill Gates made while visiting Facebook: In order for a platform to be a success, according to Gates, the companies who build on top of your product have to make more money than you do from selling it.

Of note: The VR category is finally breaking past the hardcore gamer set, which tends to be dominated by men.

  • "The number of women in VR is growing. It's bigger than people realize," Bosworth said.

That makes a difference for Facebook's long-term ambition to turn virtual-reality environments into places for social interaction.

  • Too many dudes, and the experience seems more like an episode of "Silicon Valley" than a night at a hip club or bar.

Facebook's Portal "had a huge Christmas too," Bosworth said.

  • The smart display line has added support for Zoom, WebEx and other work video conferencing apps in recent months.
  • Bosworth said most Facebook employees have the devices, which helps the company provide good support for new apps.
  • One factor behind Portal growth, he adds, is that consumers buy them in multiples — so, for example, a grandparent can easily communicate with a grandchild.

What's next: One of Facebook's big product debuts this year will be smart glasses it's making in partnership with Ray-Ban's parent company.

Go deeper

Tech scrambles to derail inauguration threats

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Tech companies are sharing more information with law enforcement in a frantic effort to prevent violence around the inauguration, after the government was caught flat-footed by the Capitol siege.

Between the lines: Tech knows it will be held accountable for any further violence that turns out to have been planned online if it doesn't act to stop it.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

  1. Health: CDC director defends agency's response to pandemic — CDC warns highly transmissible coronavirus variant could become dominant in U.S. in March.
  2. Politics: Biden readies massive shifts in policy for his first days in office.
  3. Vaccine: Fauci: 100 million doses in 100 days is "absolutely" doable.
  4. Economy: Unemployment filings explode again.
  5. Tech: Kids' screen time sees a big increase.
  6. World: WHO team arrives in China to investigate pandemic origins.
Dave Lawler, author of World
3 hours ago - World

Alexey Navalny detained after landing back in Moscow

Navalny and his wife shortly before he was detained. Photo: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty

Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny was detained upon his return to Moscow on Sunday, which came five months after he was poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok. He returned despite being warned that he would be arrested.

The latest: Navalny was stopped at a customs checkpoint and led away alone by officers. He appeared to hug his wife goodbye, and his spokesman reports that his lawyer was not allowed to accompany him.