September 16, 2015
Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has called virtual reality the next computing platform after mobile devices. His company also shelled out $2 billion to acquire Oculus VR last year; the company will ship its Rift headset for consumers in early 2016. So it’s no surprise that the company is reportedly working on a standalone video app to support 360-degree video on multiple platforms, including Apple and Android devices. Zuckerberg has also stated that Facebook would support 360-degree video in its newsfeed.
The app is in the early stages of development, says The Wall Street Journal, and Facebook has declined to comment “when or if” it will launch. Deutsche Bank analyst Ross Sandler notes that, although Oculus believes VR will be popular, at least at first, with gamers, Zuckerberg has a much more inclusive vision for the new technology.
He’s not the only one; Atlantic lists some of the projects that VR enthusiasts are working on, including NASA, which is replicating the experience of standing on Mars; the Visualization Research Lab at Brown University which created a virtual Petra archaeological temple site; and Google, which is testing Expeditions as a way to send students to hard-to-reach places like the Great Barrier Reef.
Uses for virtual reality span a range from professional training to telecommuting, treating phobias and PTSD as well as inculcating empathy, says Atlantic. The latter was the goal of “Clouds Over Sidra,” a United Nations/Samsung-produced virtual reality film about a 12-year-old girl in a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan.
Although a VR app is less immersive than the Oculus Rift, Facebook stands to gain more presence in the emerging virtual reality space as well as introduce VR to a much larger population. Deutsche Bank estimates sales of 1.5 million Oculus Rifts in 2016, whereas research firm Gartner reports that global mobile phone sales will top 2 billion.
Facebook already has plenty of competition. Google debuted its inexpensive Cardboard VR viewer, Samsung and Oculus teamed up on the Gear VR headset due later this year, and Sony developed its Project Morpheus headset (now PlayStation VR).