Last week Facebook paid the measly sum of $2bn for Oculus VR, the makers of the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset. That’s just over a tenth of WhatsApp, two Instagrams and as many as forty TweetDecks.
That said, in any man’s book, it’s a lot of money. But what have they paid for? We know Zuckerberg has a fair amount of spare cash floating around and likes his toys, but what makes him see a profit from that hefty outlay, and what does it imply is in store for the likes of you and I in the future?
Well, in the short-term, probably nothing.
Both parties are keen to stress that Oculus VR’s focus on developing their products within the gaming space will remain. This makes perfect sense, as gaming is an area tailor-made for them – game developers and players have already displayed a keen interest; the technology readily lends itself to an immersive gaming experience; and the early-adopters are more likely to both provide the kind of feedback required and accept the iterative improvement cycle that such a product demands.
And so whilst this continued focus on gaming appeases those fans in the space that would most likely be concerned by the acquisition, it also means that they act as the guinea pigs for the rest of us, allowing the product to be honed and perfected before being unleashed on the hoi poloi. It also allows the broader consumer market to further develop and evolve into a state that is ripe for the introduction of a Virtual Reality experience.
Because that is where Oculus is heading. Just imagine the possible applications… take an in-car test drive; have a tour of a museum; walk around a shopping centre buying clothes from a variety of shops; all from the comfort of your living room. And I’m certain that there’s much more opportunity than this superficial list. Combine with the increasing sophistication of mobile and digital devices, the hyper-connected (4G) world, consumers increasing willingness to adopt emerging technologies and it all becomes quite compelling.
VR really could be what AR has always told us it was, but could never be.
I’m not sure it’ll be this year, or even next, but those futuristic virtual worlds that existed only in the fevered mind of Tomorrow’s World presenters will be with us soon enough.