What was it? Bad joke or bad presentation? Or maybe Mark Zuckerberg at the opening of his F8 developer conference simply had nothing outstanding to say? In any case, disappointment hung in the air when he finally revealed what virtual and augmented realities (VR and AR) his company is currently working on. In short: a couple of mediocre camera effects and a three-dimensional chat that everyone was bored with in the world of the Second Life online game. All this appeared last year and, worst of all, from competitors.
Zuckerberg understands that his company is behind the times when it comes to VR and AR technologies, and that his goal is to bring the digital and physical worlds together as soon as possible. All the more seriously, he takes this problem and uses to solve it the resources that Facebook has more than enough: information innovations and money.
Over the next ten years, Mark plans to invest up to $3 billion in the development of AR and VR systems. This is about the same amount that he spent over the past three years on just the rather controversial acquisition of the VR company Oculus and their Rift helmets: $2 billion for the company, $300 million for Oculus executives, as they have already achieved some results, another $300 million went to compensate game developer ZeniMax Media in a lost lawsuit, which took place immediately after the purchase of Oculus.
Huge cost for a niche product
That’s crazy money laid out for an idea whose time as a successful product in a maturing market has not yet come. “Facebook needs to sell 50 million to 100 million VR headsets,” Zuckerberg said during a call with investors, “for this new technology to become a “meaningful computing platform.” For understanding: in 2016, Facebook sold only 355,000 helmets, while the number of sold Samsung Gear VR glasses, which are much cheaper and use a smartphone as a display and computing platform, did not exceed 2.3 million.
It is unlikely that the situation will change significantly in the coming years. By 2019, according to market research firm eMarketer, there will be “49.2 million regular VR users and 54.4 million regular AR users” in the US. However, these numbers are misleading: eMarketer lists the hugely popular 360-degree 360-degree videos on YouTube and filter apps like Instagram, FaceApp, and Facebook Stories as Oculus’ much more technologically advanced VR and AR headsets. (Rift), HTC (Vive), and Microsoft (HoloLens).
If we limit these studies to only mature systems (Rift, Vive, PlayStation VR, etc.), there will be little left of high-profile numbers. By 2019, only 5.2% of the US population is projected to wear VR goggles at least once a month. For a company like Facebook, which has hundreds of millions of users, this is a drop in the ocean. But what then does Zuckerberg expect from VR and AR?
New Facebook Projects
On the first day of the F8 Developer Conference, Zuckerberg unveiled two new products related to virtual and augmented reality.
> Facebook Spaces 3D chat for Oculus Rift VR system. In it, you can meet friends, presented as fully animated 3D characters, who will have access to facial expressions and body language. Users who have tested this product call it a hilarious silliness that leads to feelings of hopelessness.
> The Camera Effects platform, which allows developers to enrich the live image from the smartphone camera with augmented reality effects, such as animated masks, filters, and even machine-generated 3D objects that float, spin and jump in real space in a very real way. Zuckerberg says, “Thus, we turn the camera into an essential AR platform.” Reality and virtuality form a new mixed reality.
Don’t piss off the users of tomorrow
Any answer to this question is just speculation. Aside from a few platitudes, neither Mark nor his colleagues (and competitors) have provided an acceptable vision for the future of VR/AR. It is possible that this is done on purpose. Zuckerberg and his ilk have somehow already failed miserably in predicting the future. They did not understand in advance what role smartphones would play in their success. But only the emergence of mobile devices and their omnipresence provided Facebook and other social networks with tremendous growth and their use in completely new guises: as a means of payment, a source of information and a communication channel.
Just think: It wasn’t until 2012, four years after the first iPhone was launched, that Facebook developed its own apps for iOS and Android, which were just mean versions of the website. What would Facebook be like today if the company had embraced mobile a little earlier? Now that the trend towards mobile devices has reached its peak, Facebook must prepare for new opportunities and risks. It’s not about getting new users, but about not losing a future audience.
To do this, the company must now announce a new mode of communication, which will be radically different from the existing ones. In this regard, Facebook is betting on all sorts of interfaces of the future, where the user will be able to influence the online and offline world. Augmented reality is the most exciting tool and virtual reality is the way to achieve it.
The most social platform of all time
“Mobile is the platform of today,” Zuckerberg wrote at the time of his purchase of Oculus in July 2014. However, “Oculus has the potential to become the most social platform of all time and change the way we work, play and communicate.” At the same time, it is unlikely that the Facebook boss is referring to the bulky “harness” for the head, which is now the Oculus Rift helmet weighing 470 g, protruding 18.4 cm above the user’s forehead.
It’s more likely that Zuckerberg is talking about the merger of worlds principle that Oculus is based on, and that Facebook has yet to implement on a still thin foundation of frivolous virtual reality games and augmented reality applications. Thus, the next step should be the so-called mobile AR: combining real-time images from the physical world with information and graphics on the screen of a mobile phone. “We are turning the camera into a critical augmented reality platform,” Zuckerberg explained at the latest F8.
This statement has both a pragmatic and a prophetic background: on the one hand, cameras are standard on mobile devices and at the same time are an excellent hardware base for AR. On the other hand, Zuckerberg thereby sends signals that we are talking about a completely new principle of dealing with the physical and digital worlds, which will be put into practice through the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and the brain-computer interface. These are the three areas Facebook plans to conquer in the next ten years.
Concepts: AR, VR, MR and AV
When the boundaries between the real and the virtual are blurred, these concepts are also blurred. So we give a little hint:
> Between absolute reality and absolute virtuality are mixed realities. In jargon, it sounds like Mixed Reality (MR).
> Augmented Reality (AR), or augmented reality, enriches reality with virtual information (for example, an indication on the windshield of a car).
> Augmented Virtuality (AV), or augmented virtuality, enriches the virtual world with information about the outside world (for example, displaying a live image from a camera in a three-dimensional world).
> Virtual Reality (VR) – this term is used for absolute virtuality, in which a person can immerse himself using VR systems, including the Oculus Rift.
> True absolute virtuality is currently inaccessible to mankind, since feelings must be completely blocked by machine-generated information. But who knows? It is possible that the brain-computer interface (BCI), which is being worked on at Facebook, will be the solution to this problem.
The world as an interface
Today, the camera is the most sought-after sensor: with its help, machines get a picture of the world. Thanks to the amazing advances in image recognition and processing, it will soon be possible to combine live video and computer-generated images—even in real time and in 3D. It is about the fact that both worlds need to be opened to each other, and they say on Facebook. Virtual reality, on the other hand, describes the encapsulation of the world – exactly the type of escape from reality that Facebook is not going to work with.
However, virtual reality is an important building block in augmented reality. Therefore, you should not blame Facebook for the lack of entertainment. “The actual interest dictates the development of the future,” recalls Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer in a recent interview. In his opinion, existing VR products will gradually improve. “And if these systems get better and cheaper, there will be hundreds of millions of VR users in ten years. You just need to be patient and not get discouraged because there are not so many users yet.”
Yes, and Zuckerberg himself is not talking about creating new virtual worlds, but about improving existing ones through Facebook. He is not going to build “safe havens”, but to deeply integrate his network into the VR world and win even more space in the social weaves. With the help of VR devices and AR apps, the company is pushing the boundaries of what is possible while teaching its users how to navigate the new world in a completely comfortable way.
Since Zuckerberg sees the future of Facebook as the social infrastructure of the digital society, one should think critically: it is quite possible that he is indeed inclined to improve the existing system. As computing resources and networking become ubiquitous, computers and smartphones will no longer be the main ports to virtual reality.
It will be possible to interact directly with the computerized world through the Internet of things. And to navigate in such a world, glasses are no longer needed. The virtual and the real will no longer be different – at least if a company like Facebook manages to bring all its ideas and ideas to life.
PHOTO: manufacturing companies; Facebook