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Remember when Facebook bought Oculus for a cool $2 billion back in 2014? It’s now been almost three years, and we’re still waiting for Facebook to integrate VR into the traditional social networking experience. In the meantime, Facebook’s rivals are working on their own plans for the future of VR.
Facebook shows off its next version of social VR
The latest iteration of Facebook’s VR strategy is an app called Facebook Spaces, which has been available since mid-April for Oculus users. Assuming you own a pricey Oculus Rift VR headset, you can now hang out with up to 3 of your Facebook friends in virtual reality. Or, more precisely, you can hang out with virtual avatars of 3 of your Facebook friends in VR.
According to the demos that Facebook showed of Facebook Spaces, there are several different kinds of actions that you can do while in virtual reality. For example, you can use a virtual selfie stick to take a virtual picture of your virtual avatars – and then post that virtual photo to your real Facebook page. Confused?
Well, the tech blogs that demoed Facebook Spaces were also a bit confused. For many, it seemed like a cool tech demo in search of a problem. A good example is the Facebook Messenger integration into Facebook Spaces. For example, you can make a video call using Facebook Messenger to your real Facebook friend who isn’t in VR, and have the video from that call appear as a separate window within your Facebook Spaces app.
Which begs the question: If you really wanted to make a video call to your friend, why bother with all the in-between steps, like putting on an Oculus Rift headset and having that video call appear within another app?
Google shows off a VR advertising prototype
Sooner or later, though, somebody is going to find a way to monetize VR. Google hopes to beat Facebook to that prize. At the end of June, the company showed off what it is calling a “VR prototype” – it’s essentially a small cube with corporate logos for VR experiences. If you’re in virtual reality, you can click on that cube, and a video-like screen will pop out, complete with a virtual advertising experience. One tech analyst compared this to a “jack-in-the-box” that pops out if you stare really hard at an object in VR.
Fox Sports thinks sports viewing could be the killer app for VR
While Facebook and Google are hunting around for a potential killer app for VR, Fox Sports thinks it may have one already: sports viewing experiences in VR. The media company has already hosted about a dozen events in VR, and the next one is in July 2017: a chance to watch matches from the CONCACAF Gold Cup soccer championship with your closest friends.
What’s interesting here is that you can choose to make any soccer match as social as you’d like. Fox Sports, in partnership with Buffalo Wild Wings, is creating a virtual viewing experience. You can then invite your friends to join you in VR to watch an exciting part of the match with you. And you can pipe in 3D audio so you can hear your friends reacting to every great save, shot or pass. According to the demo that Fox Sports showed, your friends will appear as colorful avatar heads sitting next to you in the Buffalo Wild Wings viewing room.
And, of course, there continue to be the latest murmurs and rumors out of companies like Apple, Microsoft, Samsung and Sony, all of which are working on versions of “mixed reality” experiences that blend elements of VR and augmented reality (AR). For now, Facebook is still the clear leader among the big social media companies in creating VR experiences, but the more that Facebook requires users to commit to using the Oculus Rift headset exclusively, the more that other companies could see a competitive opening to win over users.
This is part of an on going series on the state of VR and social networking.