Facebook has presented its plans for Oculus, its virtual reality division, and they go far beyond the video games and apps that now triumph on its platform.
Oculus was born as the greatest attempt to recover virtual reality, a technology that had fallen into disuse since its inception in the 90s, with state-of-the-art hardware; But after being bought by Facebook, this startup changed little by little. Its latest device, the Oculus Quest 2, is a cheap way to get into virtual reality and enjoy experiences, not just games.
Making the metaverse a reality
But that was only the beginning. Facebook’s ambitions center on what it calls a “metaverse,” the junction between the real and the virtual world; stop being a social network to reach all aspects of our lives.
The key word is continuity. Each system, such as computers, smartphones or virtual reality devices, has its own characteristics, things that you can and cannot do; they are independent containers, and Facebook wants to create a space that interconnects these worlds . The company explains that it has not been created necessarily to spend more time in front of the screen, it is more to merge the real and virtual world.
Facebook poses the metaverse as the next generation of the internet , which allows a more advanced level of experience for whoever wants it. You do not need a screen, or change the ones we already have. Oculus will focus on exploring the metaverse in virtual reality with new devices and its platform.
For Oculus, virtual reality is connecting people who are separate, and augmented reality is connecting people separate and together. He is aware that it will take a lot of time and talented people to expand it, it is a vision of the future, in some cases more distant and in others, closer. Therefore, they are trying to train a new generation of creators and developers with an investment of 150 million dollars for education.
More than gaming
The gaming ecosystem is expanding into virtual reality, and Oculus has been happy with this, with hits like Beat Saber. But virtual reality can be a more immersive way to connect to the metaverse, and for this they will focus on two important areas, fitness and social.
Fitness is the fastest growing sector within Oculus and that is why they present a new accessory, Active Pack for Quest 2, new handles for the controls in case we sweat, and a new system for the head so that it does not slip. We will also find new additions in software, with new apps and games of boxing and different types of exercise.
The social part is gaining importance, even before the momentum of the metaverse. Multiplayer games are growing, as well as apps for activity with several users, and Oculus is going to make the social component the fundamental piece of the experience, to the point that the interface of the devices will change, which until now have a private space for each user.
Messenger for Oculus
Soon, Horizon Home will be the first thing we see when we put on the device, replacing the main screen; from here we can start social activities with our Facebook friends. The idea is that everyone can connect in groups that are never going to break, giving the feeling of continuity regardless of the device we use. We can start a group in an app or device, and continue with the same group in virtual reality. This app is the new member of the horizon family, with other tools more focused on work. Home will be the place from which to jump into the metaverse.
To make this union a reality, Facebook will launch Messenger in virtual reality, an app with which we can make calls with Facebook friends. Once the call is started on a mobile phone or computer, for example, we can continue in virtual reality, we can “talk between realities”, as they say in Oculus.
I work in virtual reality
The pandemic has also revealed that virtual reality may be the future of work.
A virtual reality device does not have to offer only one type of experience, if it is open to developers it can serve other purposes. Oculus wants to make virtual reality more productive, more collaborative, and work for businesses.
The original vision proposed by Facebook was of an infinite office, with all the ‘screens’ that we needed, and little by little it has made it a reality with mobile notifications, virtual keyboard and various apps that can work side by side, basically creating a desktop in virtual reality.
But they want to go further, Oculus wants to create an ecosystem of virtual reality apps. To do this, they will expand the types of apps that can be run, adding apps from other developers such as Dropbox, Slack, Instagram and more, in a virtual desktop that will allow developers to adapt their experiences.
The great advantage is that working in virtual reality is more collaborative. It’s “magical” because of the way you feel the presence of other people, and the new interface shows how important it is to see the people you work with, as well as being able to customize the rooms with different posters and settings.
Until now, Oculus has focused on personal use, but has found that it is spreading to professional use. The Oculus Quest 2 is already used for staff training and other tasks, but companies wanted more possibilities. The Business version of the Oculus Quest was limited and could not run the commercial version apps. A new version will offer more business features, but will also be able to run the same commercial apps from the store.
Another drawback has been the controversial obligation to associate a Facebook account with the device. This Business model will offer the possibility of logging in with company accounts, instead of having to use the personal Facebook account, and thus access the content of the company servers. You are working with Microsoft and other developers to integrate their systems, and there will be dedicated management tools for system administrators. The beta will open in 2022 and general availability in 2023.
For developers, Oculus wants to offer better ways of doing things, to add more capabilities to their Quest experience and expand the possibilities for monetization. One area in which they have responded to complaints is storage, which can be used up very quickly on the device; a new system for storing data in the cloud will automatically save developers from having to manage it.
Presence Platform will help creators to create virtual reality and mixed reality applications. New SDKs will be offered to add real life elements, to interact with virtual objects and to recognize voice commands. Passthrough lets you use the Quest’s external cameras to see the world around us and display 3d objects, and creators can start offering apps that use it. They will also be able to use hand and voice detection; with voice commands we can navigate through the apps.
The big announcement is that the Oculus Quest will be compatible with PWA, web applications that developers can easily adapt; the platform will open immediately for developers to create apps with little work.
The future of Facebook
Multiplayer is an important part of the metaverse. We can jump from what we are doing to a multiplayer game directly. Now we will have a list of friends to send invitations to play; These invitations will appear everywhere, on the Oculus device, on mobile and on the web.
The integration will be much greater with Facebook, which will allow to join complete groups of people to a game, it will also be easier to talk with the whole group even if they are not in the game. The avatars have been improved to offer more options and expressiveness as a representation of our person ;, the visual design has been updated, so that people are represented, the technology of avatars has been unified, such as head tracking and the hands, and the movement will be smoother and more authentic.
Ultimately, the objective of Oculus with the announcement of the metaverse of Facebook is to expand the platform, that its devices are for general use and not only for games. But for this, apps and experiences that go beyond what there is today are necessary.
With today’s announcements, at Oculus they hope to provoke a reaction, because they believe that if the developers come together, the market may change. They believe that the consumer wants to enjoy these concepts, and that is why they will help the developers.
Despite everything, the idea of the metaverse is still in its infancy, and Oculus believes it will take about a decade to become a reality.