Let’s talk virtual reality this morning because, if folks like Mark Zuckerberg have their say, just everybody with a discretionary dollar and a yearning to take “social” to the next level will be doing so by the time the year is out.
The Facebook CEO made a surprise visit to Samsung’s Mobile World Congress press conference yesterday in Barcelona “to talk up progress in virtual reality and to promote VR in the future as ‘the most social platform,’” Edward C. Baig reports for USA Today.
“The setup was great: journalists were invited to watch a virtual reality demo using Samsung's Gear VR headsets, and when the time came to remove them, there was Mark Zuckerberg standing in the middle of the stage, wearing his familiar gray T-shirt,” reports Vlad Savov for The Verge. “Cue a moment of confused gasps of excitement, followed by an escalating stampede of journalists and photographers toward the stage.”
Amid the jostling, Zuckerberg (starting at 1:21 of this YouTube video of the entire Samsung presentation) told the assembled: “One day you’re going to be able to put on a headset and that’s going to change the way you live, work and communicate.” He also suggested that the scribes “imagine being able to sit in front of a campfire and hang out with friends anytime you want. Or being able to watch a movie in a private theater with your friends anytime you want. Imagine holding a group meeting or event anywhere in the world that you want.”
“Facebook also said Sunday it had formed a team to create social interactions in virtual reality. The team will work with Oculus and others at Facebook. It also said it was bringing its streaming technology for 360 video to Samsung Gear VR in coming weeks,” writes USA Today’s Baig.
Zuckerberg aside, Samsung new Gear 360 camera — with dual fisheye lenses for creating VR content — “stole the show” at the expense of the two new Galaxy S7 smartphones, which the Wall Street Journal’s Jonathan Cheng and most other reviewers are finding a lot to yawn about.
“The Gear 360 accompanies Samsung’s Gear VR, the virtual reality headset that the company developed with Facebook’s Oculus, which was released in November, Brian X. Chen writes for the New York Times. “The Gear 360 has two cameras — one on the front and one on the back …. The videos can then be viewed through the Gear VR, which works only with Samsung’s Galaxy phones.”
For all the virtual kumbaya-campfire experiences, let’s not forget hardcore gaming.
“Zuckerberg also said that among a raft of VR-enhanced titles expected to show up this year for the Oculus Rift and the Gear VR, will be the popular series ‘Minecraft,’ in which you can build your own virtual world,” as Barron’s Tiernan Ray reports.
(Ray also writes: “… with each event where industry folk don their VR headsets, it becomes a little clearer how crushingly nerdy this all looks. VR looks awful on most anyone, unless, of course, you’re wearing them and blissfully unaware.”) As, indeed, the attendees were as Zuckerberg strode to the stage, totally oblivious to his presence. A picture of that entrance that Zuckerberg posted to his Facebook page “trips all of our ‘horrible cyberpunk future’ alarms, carefully put in place by everything from The Matrix to Noam Chomsky's Manufacturing Consent,” writes Rich McCormick for The Verge.
Speaking of Oculus Rift, which Facebook bought for $2 billion nearly two years ago, CEO Brendan Iribe tells the Wall Street Journal’s Jack Nicas that its partnership with Facebook will be a big help against looming competition with headsets from Sony and its PlayStation and HTC, which is partnering with the gaming company Valve .
“Something not everybody thinks about today is the social side, beyond just gaming — being able to have multiple avatars, multiple people in the same virtual world, experiencing a destination with you, teleporting and traveling together,” Iribe says.
As for the threat of commoditization, the technology is not so easy to replicate. “Every time an engineer comes in and says, ‘Oh, this thing is so hard but we think we got it,’ it’s like, ‘Well, good. That means it’s going to be really hard for anybody else to do,’” Iribe says.
Including, at least so far, Apple. We’ll see how long that lasts.