Facebook's annual conference, Facebook Connect, is a time to share their vision for virtual and augmented reality, the Metaverse, and some new hardware when we're lucky. Love them or hate them, it's impossible to deny their influence on virtual reality as the leading hardware producer of the popular Oculus Quest 2.
Facebook Connect 2021: 5 Biggest announcements
1. Facebook goes Meta! (Rebranding to Meta)
When you hear Facebook, most people think of the social media giant, not virtual reality. However, with their rebrand to 'Meta' and their Facebook Reality Labs employing nearly 10,000 people to work on augmented and virtual reality (almost 20% of their total workforce), we can be certain Facebook will move the needle forward with their rebranding. During Facebook's 2021 third-quarter financial report, CFO David Wehne, announced, "we expect our investment in Facebook Reality Labs to reduce our overall operating profit in 2021 by approximately $10 billion." We are committed to bringing this long-term vision to life and we expect to increase our investments for the next several years."
Facebook is no doubt going all-in on the Metaverse, but what is it? For those new to the term, the way we like to explain it is, "the next evolution of human interaction". If you think about the evolution of how humans interact, we have been on a journey. From the early 90's with online forums, 00's social media such as MySpace and Facebook, to the 10's pushing the "internet everywhere" boundary with the mobile age. The Metaverse will be the next evolution in this journey, a virtual space where you can experience endless possibilities.
2. Facebook Horizon, Horizon Home and the Metaverse
In August, Facebook's VR/AR subsidiary Oculus launched a remote collaboration tool, Horizon Workrooms. So it's no surprise they continued the trend of focusing on use cases for virtual reality with their new Horizon updates about connecting in the Metaverse. The segment started with Zuckerberg selecting an avatar and jumping into a virtual world with friends. If you have not experienced this before, it may seem like science-fiction, but having jumped into these virtual spaces with our team and clients, we can say that you instantly get that "in-person" experience, compared to a phone call or Zoom meeting. Zuckerberg addressed this and stood by the Metaverse being mainstream in the next decade. The promise of designing and personalising your own virtual home where you can create other experiences such as watching films, playing games, joining live events, and even having visitors join you in avatar form (which seem very customisable!) is the push in the right direction. Current VR Platform players focused on just the "meeting" experience need to focus on their point of difference.
Virtual reality is a phenomenal experience, but right now, we don't think it's ready yet to be used for 8 hours a day or as a replacement for your work computer. Its strength is in replicating dangerous, expensive, and impractical scenarios to produce and human-centred experiences like Accenture is implementing for their onboarding. But, with the push for the Metaverse and new technology, it might soon be a place where users can spend hours upon hours in.
3. Hardware Updates (Quest 2, Project Cambria, AR Glasses)
First things first, Project Cambria. Project Cambria is a high-end device launching next year (2022) that will be sold alongside the Quest 2. It will not be a successor to Quest, as it will be a more expensive premium line of headsets featuring the latest technology, colour passthrough (see your real environment in colour while wearing your headset), pancake optics (allows higher resolution, field of view and smaller headsets) and more to be announced.
The Quest 2 headset has two models, a consumer and a business. The consumer model requires a Facebook account while the business doesn't but costs twice the price. Mark Zuckerberg says that they will be removing the requirement for a Facebook account, which is great news for businesses within the next year.
Oculus for Business program will be winding down this year as they begin to roll out their new Quest for Business in closed beta this year, open beta in 2022 and a full launch in 2023. Information is currently sparse and leaves a lot of uncertainty and more questions than answers at this stage. Early information suggests this will allow the consumer model to be supported by their Quest for Business program, significantly lowering the financial barrier to entry. We hope these changes are a step in the right direction of becoming more business-friendly.
After the event, Andrew Bosworth shared some additional news on the Oculus brand, including the Oculus Quest VR headsets. Oculus Quest will be rebranded to Meta Quest in early 2022, saying, "over the next few months, you'll see a phased rollout of the brand across all the relevant products and services — including Facebook Portal to Meta Portal. This shift from one brand identity to another is not a trivial one, and it must be done thoughtfully to ensure brand equity and transparency."
Project Nazare is the codename for the new augmented reality glasses in development. They are currently in early development and are a few years out, but they're aiming to be their first full augmented reality glasses that are about 5mm thick.
4. Augmented Reality
Although the glasses were a talking point, don't get too excited! Zuckerberg noted that augmented reality is more difficult than virtual reality - the future will be mixed, but virtual reality is the key to unlocking the technology required for the Metaverse.
5. VR for Learning and Development
The most exciting advancement in virtual reality is accessibility to consumers and businesses. It was previously only found in arcades or expensive and clunky training simulators. Now you can get one for your home! Standalone headsets are the price of a cheap laptop (and now even cheaper, with Facebook saying they want to produce them "at cost"), so there is no longer a financial barrier for most households or businesses.
For Learning and Development, this is a big win. Imagine a world where everyone owns and understands how to interact inside of a virtual environment. The possibilities are endless on what could be created.
We were VR sceptics for years, but the possibilities and benefits are impossible to ignore. At Obsidea, we are investing heavily in virtual reality training and ensuring we are at the forefront of this technology. We can't wait to share what we have been working on!