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How is Facebook Planning to Take Over Virtual Reality, Explained

Facebook is one of the most controversial companies in the world but despite their repeated scandals, Facebook boasts almost 3 billion active users. Recently the social media empire made a strange and unexpected business decision. Today we're answering the question why is Facebook investing in virtual reality?

Most people associate Facebook with its flagship website and other big-name subsidiaries like Instagram and Whatsapp. But behind the scenes Facebook is cultivating new technology in a number of different fields. One of its biggest announcements in recent years was the fully immersive Oculus Virtual Reality System.

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While the device debuted in a relatively rudimentary form, new additions are increasingly futuristic. Facebook is ramping up the production of its Oculus VR headsets by up to 50 this year according to the Nikkei Asian review with a target of 2 million devices. That's an ambitious goal. Since Facebook's newest headset, the standalone Oculus Quest only hit 705000 shipments last year according to superdata.

Facebook remains the market leader in VR headsets with a 35% share according to trend force and the Nikkei report implies it will double down on the growing market with new headsets.

This comes after news that Facebook was investing big in virtual reality after the onset of the Covid 19 pandemic as people are further removed from one another.

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Facebook is betting that VR will help them feel closer in both personal and professional relationships. The news comes as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that half of its workforce will likely work remotely over the next five to ten years. “We need

to do this in a way that's thoughtful and responsible so we're going to do this in a measured way” he said but I think that it's possible that over the next five to ten years, maybe closer to ten than five but somewhere in that range, we could get to about half of the company working remotely permanently.

Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality is all about giving people remote presence so if you're long on VR and AR and on video chat, you have to believe in some capacity that you're helping people be able to do whatever they want from wherever they are. So I think that suggests a world view that would lead to allowing people to work more remotely over time.

His vision would use pass through a technology used on Facebook's Oculus Virtual Reality hardware that lets you temporarily step outside VR to see a real-time view of the world around you. To let people switch between their real and virtual worlds with the hope that by combining the flexibility of new inputs like hand tracking. With the familiarity of everyday input devices like a keyboard and mouse we could give people the best of both worlds. The company is also developing virtual avatars called codec avatars which would let people in the future create lifelike virtual avatars of themselves quickly and easily helping social connections in virtual reality become as natural and common as those in the real world.

In an eight second video Andrew Boz Bosworth Facebook's head of AR and VR shared a vision of what remote work might look like in the future the glitchy video shows a user moving virtual screens around their room and typing into a virtual browser while the video showcases a low fidelity it proves that Facebook is developing VR technology aimed specifically at the corporate world. In the future, we could create a super powered augmented workspace with multiple customizable screens in VR. Unbounded from the limits of physical monitors says Bosworth.

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But many people believe Facebook wasted its opportunity to connect with the public during lockdown. They had a head start with virtual reality technology and yet it was not widely adopted. In fact many people at Facebook are embarrassed by their personal results. John Carmack who is Facebook connects consulting chief technology officer said in a talk during the Facebook connect developer conference that the lockdowns enforced by global novel Coronavirus outbreaks were a missed opportunity. In a series of frank comments he listed the names of abandoned projects saying they could have helped VR users connect with friends and family during the crisis.

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“This was the opportunity to define distance, defy reality” he said before acknowledging the “Oculus Quest VR headsets had suffered from a lack of stock availability not only were we sold out most of the time but worse all of our social experiences were basically killed or deprecated” Carmack said.

“ We have rooms, spaces, co-watching and all those are gone” he said naming prior services venues has been in maintenance mode for this entire time so we made this huge bet on horizon and we've had all these people working on it and you're seeing fruits of that finally with the Venues 2.0 now but basically we weren't ready.”

Facebook's horizon a social experience where users can play games or chat inside a virtual world is currently available as an invite-only beta version. Facebook horizon is a virtual reality sandbox universe where you can build your own environments and games. Play and Socialize with friends or just explore the user-generated landscapes. This is Facebook's take on second life launched in early 2020 in closed beta Facebook Horizon allows users to design their own diverse avatars and hop between virtual locales through portals called ‘Telepods’.

Watch movies and consume other media with friends and play multiplayer games together like Wing Strikers.

But as with most of Facebook's money making ventures, the push towards VR is all about data. Massive adoption and engagement for platforms like Instagram and its namesake social media network have given Facebook an edge in data and distribution that helped the company leverage users personal information for profit. Despite Facebook's legendary Cambridge Analytica Scandal, few people have been deterred from the popular site as a result they are consuming data more vehemently than ever and selling it to the highest bidder. Now the company is looking to bolster its position in the data range by gathering information from its Oculus Virtual Reality headsets, turning Oculus devices into data sources makes a lot of sense in light of VR's big potential and the move is part of a trend that sees historically software focused companies pursuing hardware initiatives as ways to collect valuable information.

Zuckerberg is a big believer in the potential of Virtual Reality and has even stated that he thinks VR could succeed mobile as the next revolutionary computing platform. Facebook purchased VR company oculus in 2014 at a price reported to be in the 3 billion range and while the VR unit initially operated largely separate from the parent organization, it was always likely that it would see tighter integration but using engagement data to help shape the company's next software moves in the VR space is the more promising prospect at this point in time.

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High quality user data will be a huge advantage in shaping the company's upcoming VR project and better positions it to outperform competitors in the space. Revenue from virtual reality hardware sales was probably never the primary motive in Facebook's decision to make a big push into VR with Oculus. Outside of some exceptions technology hardware tends to be a low margin business and Facebook likely sees much bigger potential in operating VR based social platforms, access to data that can be used to inform corporate decisions is likely to play a big role in how the virtual reality software market shapes up and early adoption advantages could help determine leadership in VR categories like social media and e-commerce.

So what is Facebook's history with VR and what are its long-term goals?

When Facebook acquired Oculus Eight years ago, the VR company developed pricey headsets that were tethered to high-end PCs, its first commercial headset “The Rift” mainly attracted hardcore gamers and developers when it launched in 2016. In subsequent years, Facebook launched both the Oculus Go and Quest each had technical improvements and was not limited to use with PC. This helped with wider adoption but neither device became common in the average household. In June 2020, Facebook announced it would discontinue the Oculus Go to double down on improving the Rift and Quest. That announcement along with a recent acceleration in its hardware production suggests Facebook could launch successors to The Rifts and The Quest.

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Facebook revealed, it sold over 100 million dollars in VR content for the Quest over the past year that announcement implied each Quest owner bought over 140 dollars in content for their $400 to $500 headsets and that Facebook's plans for building a sprawling VR world for video games, media and social interactions are gradually taking shape.

Like other app stores Facebook retains a 30 cut of its Oculus content sales. Facebook's core advertising revenue rose 17% annually to 17.4 billion dollars in early 2020 and accounted for 98% of its top line but its other revenue which mainly consists of Oculus and Portal devices surged 80% to 297 million dollars driven primarily by sales of Oculus products. This is only a fraction of Facebook's bottom line but it's enough to keep Zuckerberg interested.

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Mark Zuckerberg said on a conference call with investors that Oculus had surpassed his expectations and that he wanted to produce more Oculus and faster to keep up with demand they also revealed an ultra lightweight augmented reality headset that looks exactly like a pair of reading glasses. The compact look of these glasses is made possible by a new optical architecture that Facebook has been developing. It combines Holographics with a special optical folding technique that in simple terms bends and reflects light back on itself and that saves a lot of space when it comes to lenses with a lens thickness of just 0.35 inches a field view of more than 90 degrees horizontally and a resolution for each eye of 600 by 1200 pixels. The prototype specs promise a much more compact VR future. These are very much still prototypes though they don't include any kind of battery or light projecting component at the moment and they can only produce images in shades of green and black, the pictures they released only include the lenses in the frame. Most current VR headsets make use of led optics so switching to holographic optics in this way will require a rethink of other parts of the VR hardware setup too but the end result could be a richer range of colors as well as less bulky devices.

These are generally seen as direct competition to the long rumored Apple AR glasses headset whose release Apple keeps delaying while the Facebook glasses are not likely to be commercially available anytime soon they offer insight into the future of VR and AR.

What do you guys think of Facebook’s upcoming plan? Let us know in the comment box below.

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