Samsung Gear VR

How Facebook’s Oculus Go, Santa Cruz headsets plan to make VR mainstream



Mark Zuckerberg Oculus Go
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg introducing the Oculus Go
headset.

Facebook

  • The mission of leading Facebook’s virtual reality
    business now falls on Hugo Barra, who joined Facebook six
    months ago with the newly-created title “VP of VR.”
  • Despite lackluster consumer interest, early missteps,
    and a lot of change in leadership, Facebook still has big
    plans to get a billion people into virtual reality.
  • Barra sat down with Business Insider and explained how
    he intends to accomplish such a lofty goal.

Despite tepid interest from consumers so far, Facebook still
believes it can turn virtual reality into the next big thing.

“We want to get a billion people in virtual reality,” CEO Mark
Zuckerberg said onstage at the company’s annual Oculus VR
conference for developers this week in California.

The goal is an exceptionally ambitious one even for
Facebook, which already boasts 2 billion users.

Consider the current state of VR: Research firm
Canalys 
recently
estimated
 that only two million VR headsets were
shipped globally in 2016, with Oculus accounting for
400,000 of those shipments. (Facebook has yet to
publicly disclose how many Oculus headsets it has
sold.)

Facebook’s latest VR bet is its Oculus Go headset,
which will start at $199 when it ships in early
2018. The Oculus Go is intended to fill the “sweet spot”
between expensive, higher-end VR systems like the Oculus Rift and
lightweight headsets like Samsung’s Gear VR, Zuckerberg said
during his keynote earlier this week.

“It’s hands down the most accessible way to get into VR,”
Facebook’s Oculus chief, Hugo Barra, told Business Insider in an
interview after the keynote. “We’ve designed it with comfort as
the most important target we wanted to hit.”

Oculus Go represents just one of Facebook’s multi-pronged efforts
to grow its VR business, which currently lags behind
competitors like Sony and HTC. Oculus is also starting to work
directly with businesses and is developing an
untethered version of its flagship, most expensive Rift headset.

New ways to sell VR

The task of leading Oculus now falls on Barra, who
joined Facebook six months ago with the newly-created title “VP
of VR” after serving stints at Xiaomi and Google’s Android
division.


Hugo Barra Mark Zuckerberg
Hugo
Barra and Mark Zuckerberg in Facebook’s VR app,
Spaces.

Facebook

One of Barra’s recent announcements is the Oculus for Business
Program
, which allows enterprise customers to buy bulk
orders of Oculus headsets for commercial use.

Oculus is already working with companies like Cisco and Audi
to use its headsets in their workplaces, and expects to
raise general consumer awareness of VR through the program.

That’s because some of these businesses are creating VR
apps for their own customers, Barra said. For instance, Audi
is using Oculus Rift headsets to give customers virtual car demos
at some of its dealerships.

“We think that working with some of these business is going to
create great consumer awareness for VR in general,” Barra said.

Such plans are not unique. Microsoft is doing much the same by
targeting its augmented reality headset, HoloLens, to
businesses as well. But the program is a new direction for
Oculus, which has strictly focused on reaching consumers prior.

Meanwhile, Facebook will also try to raise awareness for VR in
other ways. Oculus will run ad campaigns for its forthcoming Go
headset and the lowered cost of its higher-end Rift system.

While Facebook currently has no plans to open retail stores, that
idea isn’t out of the question either, Barra said. “I think it’s
plausible, but certainly not something we’re thinking about
discussing at this point. It’s not a bad idea at all.” 

In fact, Facebook tested the retail idea a bit last winter,
when it
showed off its Oculus Rift technology
in various
short-term pop-up stores around the country.


Facebook pop up store.JPG
Facebook
Oculus Rift pop-up store at Denver International
Airport.

Business
Insider


Missteps and hardships

While Oculus faces mounting pressure from competitors like Sony
and HTC, the VR division has also undergone its own string
of hardships since it was acquired by Facebook for $2 billion in
2014.

Prominent VR evangelist and
Oculus cofounder Palmer
Luckey was forced out of the company
earlier this year after it was discovered that he
secretly funded anti-Hillary Clinton advertisements
around
the 2016 election.

Aside from Luckey’s departure, Oculus’s other top leadership has
been through a lot of other changes. CEO Brendan Irbe stepped
down in December 2016 (he apparently still works on the Rift, but
was noticeably absent from the Oculus conference this past week).
Its head of mobile VR, Jon Thomason, left for Uber in
September 2017 after less than a year on the job.


palmer luckey
Palmer
Luckey.


Facebook.com/oculusvr


And back in February, Oculus
was ordered
to pay
 game maker ZeniMax $500 million in
damages for a lost lawsuit. Facebook is in the process of
appealing the ruling.

For now, Oculus has to battle increasingly fierce
competition from gaming-focused headsets like Sony’s
PlayStation VR. Its untethered Santa Cruz headset, while
impressive during a brief demo, doesn’t have a ship date or price
point yet. And Oculus Go won’t ship in time for this year’s
holiday season.

Barra points to the 2,000 apps, including titles from the likes
of Pixar, and over 100 million downloads on the Oculus platform
as evidence that VR is already catching on outside of the
early-adopter crowd. Zuckerberg has said Facebook plans to spend
billions of dollars over the next several years on developing
VR along with paying developers to create apps and games.

“Awareness comes with having a wide product portfolio,” said
Barra. “Amazing things take time to build.”



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