Oculus acquisition: Why Facebook and not Google?

Oculus acquisition: Why Facebook and not Google?

Credit: AFP/Getty Images

An attendee wears an Oculus Rift HD virtual reality head-mounted display at he plays EVE: Valkyrie, a multiplayer virtual reality dogfighting shooter game, at the Intel booth at the 2014 International CES, January 9, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada. AFP PHOTO /ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

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by USA Today

KING5.com

Posted on March 26, 2014 at 1:21 PM

Updated Wednesday, Mar 26 at 1:21 PM

 SAN FRANCISCO — When Facebook ponied up $2 billion Tuesday for virtual-reality goggle maker Oculus VR, what exactly was it buying?
 
On a conference call following the deal's announcement, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg implied that the device — dreamed up by Oculus founder Palmer Luckey specifically with gaming in mind — would allow his social networking company to vault users into a new realm of human connectivity.
 
Just how that might work not only remains to be seen, but also is subject to Oculus Rift goggles becoming less bulky and more sophisticated. In fact, for some tech observers Facebook's acquisition was all about keeping Google out of the virtual reality picture.
 
"The subtext here is the epic battle playing out now between Facebook and Google," says Peter Sealey, an early Facebook adviser and former marketing chief at Coca-Cola and Columbia Pictures.
 
 
 
"There's no question that virtual reality is the future, and you can particularly see those leaps being made in the business space with teleconferencing, just like the huge leap made from the days of chalkboard presentations to Power Point," he says. "Zuckerberg is clearly saying (Facebook) means to be a player in this area."
 
Silicon Valley tech forecaster Paul Saffo says he was shocked that it wasn't Google buying Oculus, or for that matter "one of the big consumer tech companies, such as Sony, which has already demonstrated its interest in this area with the (Oculus competitor) Morpheus glasses."
 
Saffo says he can see how Facebook could incorporate virtual reality into its current social media experience "if they go the route of Second Life," an avatar-based world where players can trade and buy virtual goods and services. "Facebook right now is a one-dimensional experience, and they could use Rift to made it 3-D."
 
Although Saffo was impressed with Rift when he demoed a pair, he says the experience "gave me a headache, and may give others vertigo. I'm sure Moore's Law (an axiom that implies an exponential leap in technological innovations) is on Zuckerberg's side, but it's still an ambitious vision."
 
Besides waiting for technological improvements, another roadblock to a more immediate application of Oculus Rift is the simple fact that for nearly four decades, "there has been a lot of hype about immersive virtual reality, but none of it has clicked with average people to date," says Danah Boyd of Microsoft Research, and author of the new book It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens.
 
"The closest we've gotten is IMAX," she says. "There are lots of questions to be asked and innovation to be done, but I think that any predictions about everyday usage are nothing more than speculation at this point."
 
Nonetheless, virtual reality augmenting the way we connect is likely more a matter of when than if, says Larry Chiagouris, professor of marketing at Pace University.
 
"This is a brilliant move on Zuckerberg's part, and a big contrast to Google's Glass," he says. "Facebook is all about sharing, and this technology clearly will allow sharing beyond anything we've seen thus far."
 
Chiagouris allows that mass adoption will hinge on a Rift successor being far smaller than the present device, which is the size of ski goggles. But he adds that if there is one inviolable tech trend, it's the miniaturization of everything.
 
"This purchase is just a small step in the direction we're all heading, which is an immersive experience for all of the senses," he says. "If someone tomorrow invents something that allows you to explore someone's thoughts, I'm sure Facebook will buy that, too."

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