Oculus and Facebook heading different paths?

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When Mark Zuckerberg first announced the collaboration with Oculus, everyone scratched their heads in thought. What can Facebook possibly have to do with Oculus? Is it just a technology Zuckerberg is personally interested in? His claim of getting 1 billion users to VR certainly holds some ground. In an era of heightened gaming sensations, whether you’re playing on PC or console, onboarding VR into something as massive as Facebook definitely has potential. 

How would it work?

Well, it’s all guesswork for now. At Facebook F8’s conference in 2017, Facebook showed how it might work as a cross between a Google maps street view and a VR-made environment. By including textures and the geometry of space in its mapping feature you could, technically, allow visitors to join you virtually in your kitchen. This would then reinforce the notion of “social” that Facebook is all about. But like we said, this is all guesswork.

What’s the deal now?

The rift (if you’ll excuse our pun) started over different ideologies. Oculus and the VR headset industry in general is a slow growing one. Only 5% of people in the US will own a headset this year and many others don’t even know what Oculus is or who they are. This is partly due to costs. The Oculus Rift is a high-end product and not very accessible. Their low-end product, the Oculus Go is doing better in terms of growth but is highly limited when it comes to product features, quality and resolution. So while you are paying more with the Oculus Go, you are also getting something infinitely better. 

The main disagreement between Oculus and Facebook came about when both parties wanted the project to give different ways. While Oculus executives wished the provide the best product on the market, Facebook wanted to reach the most customers, and as we’ve seen above, you do not reach the most customers with the high-end product. Cue in, top Oculus executives, including co-founder Brendan Iribe exiting the Facebook scene.

The Details

Iribe wanted the next generation of the Rift, codenamed Caspar as TechCrunch reports, to function with the latest PC hardware. Zuckerberg’s plan of reaching the 1 billion-user mark did not accommodate these requirements. Iribe is said to have insisted he was not interested in “offering compromised experiences that provided short-term user growth but sacrificed on comfort and performance.” You kind of see his point.

The company will focus instead on a more accessible Oculus Rift S instead of a Rift 2, with inside-out tracking system instead of external trackers. Users complain that with inside-out trackers, the headset glitches often. This is the case not only with Facebook’s Oculus Quest but also with Windows MR Headsets: when out of view of cameras for very few seconds, the headset glitches out and won’t register a movement, unlike what would be the case if the trackers were external. This is the price you pay for not paying more, ironically.

The Way Forward

The cancellation of a higher-end product and the investment into a more affordable one signals a slowing down in the initial aggressive plans of Oculus. At least when it comes to premium VR headsets. However, just as Zuckerberg reconfirms his short-term plan of getting more users into VR, it is still not clear what part will the premium devices play. The benefits of  a “cheaper” VR model are obvious and will help the brand grow in terms of client acquisition, but in the long-run, will users be content with having a second-grade VR set? 

The world of VR is expanding into numerous other fields and unlike more closely associated industries like casino and other gaming spheres, VR is also featuring in other less conventional fields. Real estate for example are relying on VRs to give their clients a more immersive tour. Education is also looking into ways to transport their students beyond mere classroom borders. As the world is slowly but surely shifting into VR, shouldn’t specs level-up as well?

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