Exactly one year ago, Facebook purchased Oculus VR, one of the companies pioneering virtual reality experiences for the masses, for $US2 billion.
On Wednesday, Facebook announced the first step in connecting people to virtual reality via Oculus: Facebook’s News Feed will soon support 360-degree videos that you can view in your Oculus-powered headset. (Samsung’s Gear VR is the only Oculus-powered virtual reality headgear you can buy right now; Oculus plans to release its first commercial product in the near future.)
Oculus is still in its infancy, but after the F8 keynote, it’s still unclear how virtual reality will actually supplement or enhance the Facebook experience.
Virtual reality is, at least right now, a solo activity: You strap a pair of goggles onto your face, and suddenly you’re transported to a new destination. This has obvious applications for video games and passive viewing — for instance, maybe you want to take a tour of the Taj Mahal without visiting booking a flight to India — but in current embodiments of virtual reality, you aren’t interacting with anyone else, either in your immediate vicinity or via remote. It’s fun, but you’re alone.
Facebook, on the other hand, is all about connecting people to people, and people to services. Eventually, virtual reality technology could reach a point where it’s robust and realistic enough to support a bunch of far-flung friends reuniting in a virtual lobby in real-time, but that could take some time. Meanwhile, this service already exists, sans virtual reality: It’s called Google Hangouts.
Perhaps Facebook should have considered purchasing an augmented reality company. Unlike virtual reality, augmented reality — like Microsoft’s Hololens, or Magic Leap — lets you see the real world, but lay digital elements on top of it. It’s more like Google Glass, but the virtual elements feel like they actually belong in the real world, and interacting with them feels intuitive and fun.
Here’s why augmented reality might have been a better fit for Facebook: Imagine going out to a bar and meeting a bunch of new people. Everyone’s really friendly and you want to keep in touch, but you don’t want to go around the room taking everyone’s phone number. Instead, you activate the headset you’re wearing, and Facebook shows you information about the people you’re looking at — their names, where they work, if they’re in relationships — and you can even see an “Add Friend” button that hovers right next to them and click it.
The good news is, Facebook can still build these experiences for other augmented reality hardware coming from Magic Leap, Microsoft, and others. But when it comes to virtual reality and Oculus, it looks like Facebook will continue taking small steps until VR technology is capable of offering experiences that are equally immersive and social.
NOW WATCH: Watch Henry Blodget Freak Out When He Tries Oculus Rift And Looks Down From A Virtual Skyscraper
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