Facebook-Oculus Deal Will Help Create A Second World

The $2bn capture of the leader in virtual reality will finally accelerate virtual reality

Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus will send a rocket up the trouser leg of virtual reality and set up an intriguing battle for supremacy with Google for control of the next frontier in internet use — immersive worlds.

Much bosh is talked about the speed of technological progress as if boffins developed technology that then describes an inexorable and unwavering northward curve at 110 degrees or so when measured by protractor. That sometimes happens, but far more often there is a stop-start or quick-quick-slow ragged pattern of progress that is so well captured by Gartner’s Hype Cycle. VR has been hyped, ballyhooed, seen standards efforts come and go, appeared in hundreds of movies. What it hasn’t had is mainstream adoption or desirable products that meet consumer or business needs.

The $2bn Mark Zuckerberg has plunked down for Oculus, a leader in an infant market, shows real intent. Its statement on the matter is bullish and beguilingly wide in ambition:

“While the applications for virtual reality technology beyond gaming are in their nascent stages, several industries are already experimenting with the technology, and Facebook plans to extend Oculus’ existing advantage in gaming to new verticals, including communications, media and entertainment, education and other areas. Given these broad potential applications, virtual reality technology is a strong candidate to emerge as the next social and communications platform.”

That’s fighting talk, right there.

Google’s effort with Glass sets up a fascinating bout, albeit one characterised by a splintering of approaches. Google is focused on eyewear, Oculus has a headset, the Rift. There are other efforts in VR and augmented reality (AR) too: Nokia City Lens is a fine showcase for AR as local guide, using a smartphone screen as proxy for the real world. Microsoft, Sony and other giants will surely have to push harder too or cede a potentially enormous market.

What’s at stake here? Nothing but a second world where it’s possible to sit in at a lecture with a world-class academic, arrange your computer files in 3D as if on a desk, play in an orchestra with the best musicians alive or dead, experience what it’s like to receive a bouncer from the world’s fastest bowler in cricket. The list is endless. There will be some stalling and tracking back certainly, but the race for supremacy in VR is on.


Martin Veitch is Editorial Director at IDG Connect