Facebook is developing an independent smartphone app that would allow users to take 360-degree “spherical” videos, in which viewers could tilt their phones to get a different perspective. The development would launch Facebook to the forefront of virtual reality technology, without the use of a headset.
The news came from workers at Facebook familiar with the project, speaking on the condition of anonymity since the project is still in early development. Presumably, the Facebook virtual reality app hopes to integrate VR with social media.
Virtual Reality Is Already Going Mainstream
Last year, months after buying WhatsApp for $19 billion, Facebook made another game-changing purchase: Oculus VR, perhaps the biggest name in virtual reality technology. For $2 billion, Facebook now owns the rights to their software as well as their “goggles,” the headset with which Oculus emerges its users into a virtual reality.
The announcement of the Facebook virtual reality app coincides with the first Emmy Award for a virtual reality experience. The Sleepy Hollow Virtual Reality Experience, produced for the Oculus Rift DK2 headset, won an Emmy for the category of “Interactive Media, User Experience, and Visual Design.” From this and other VR “experiences” that Oculus has produced, the company hopes to soon develop full-length interactive games. A consumer version of the Rift headset should be available in the first quarter of next year.
Big Deal, Video Games. Give Me Something “Real.”
Virtual reality isn’t limited to gaming. The news and entertainment industries are already exploring the potential of using technology to immerse viewers in rare, real-life experiences (unlike Oculus, which wants to show you what it looks like to be decapitated by a headless horseman). VICE News and The New York Times teamed up to develop Vrse, a virtual reality method of news that allows a 360-degree view of current events, like Liberia during the Ebola outbreak, or the Black Lives Matter protests.
YouTube has launched an account called #360Video, a series of videos in which viewers can scroll around to view a scene from all angles, scenes including an underwater kelp forest and a Duran Duran music video.
Taylor Swift even developed an app that allows fans to experience her concerts from back-stage or tour her mansion. What a thrill.
Since Vrse, #360Video, and T-Swift rely on smartphones and tablets rather than headsets, some VR-purists denounce it as not true virtual reality. Then again, denouncing virtual reality as not true reality usually shuts them up.
Facebook Virtual Reality App Will Make Your Every Experience VR-Worthy
Many virtual reality pioneers, like those at Oculus, see little market outside hardcore gamers, at least in the short-term. But Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has different plans.
He has previously expressed his belief that virtual reality will become the next big “computing platform” after mobile devices. Beyond gaming, he foresees his Facebook virtual reality app being used for immersive Skype-like hangouts, virtual doctor appointments, experiencing courtside seats at a basketball game, and more.
He also thinks the “purists,” who require a headset for virtual reality, are holding the platform back. Making virtual reality available on mobile devices will introduce it to an extremely wide audience, reducing widespread skepticism about the technology as a whole.
Just imagine: once people get used to video-chatting their friends from all angles at once using their mobile devices, they’ll be eager to buy an over-priced headset so they can literally plunge into social media and forget about the world around them. Won’t that be the day!
Google, Samsung, and Sony are all investing in virtual reality headsets of their own. But Facebook may be a trailblazer when it comes to mobile-based, social media virtual reality—a road that must be paved for the headsets to catch on. Welcome to the future!
How would you use the Facebook virtual reality app or any other type of VR? Share your foresight!