Facebook Bought Oculus Rift Because It Wants Your Life

Before Google can get it.

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Mar 25 2014, 10:57pm
Facebook on your face. Image: Sergey Galyonkin/Flickr

Facebook just spent $2 billion on Oculus so that it can turn your Skype or Google Hangout sessions with your significant other into full-on Facebook teleportation experiences. Welcome to the future of social media.  

Oculus is the company that seems to have been able to take virtual reality and turn it from a nausea-inducing experience to one that might be able to convince you that you’re somewhere else. And that’s been what we’ve been waiting for for decades, right? 

Ever since virtual reality was promised to us in movies and Disney World rides and that sort of thing, gaming has been the obvious platform. But as the technology has actually gotten there, we’ve seen lots of other applications, from PTSD therapy and vacations to sex simulations and gender swapping. The next one might be to take video chatting to the next level. Imagine a long distance relationship where, instead of Skyping, you’re both kinda sorta lying in bed together or sitting next to each other watching TV. That’s what Facebook buying Oculus means, and Mark Zuckerberg said as much in a conference call about the acquisition:

“Gaming is a start,” he said. “But there are cases where people have built models of far off places and, it’s teleporting. You believe you’re there. There’s a breadth of interesting things we haven’t seen on other platforms before that we can do.”

Brendan Iribe of Oculus Rift said that in recent months, the team there has begun to think beyond gaming as well.  

“As we got the hard technology problems solved, we thought it was going to be a lot about gaming and entertaining, but something we didn’t expect that became obvious was how big the potential was for the social experience,” he said. “When you feel you’re actually present, when your brain is completely convinced, something fundamentally changes. If you can see somebody else and look at them and you’re not looking into a screen, you get goosebumps and realize how big this can be and how big of an impact it’ll have.”

Facebook has been on something of a buying spree lately—compared to the $19 billion they just paid for WhatsApp, $2 billion seems like a pittance to own the far-and-away the virtual reality leader of the moment. Zuckerberg said that WhatsApp and Oculus represent “two rare instances,” but “the rate [of takeovers] will not continue.”

Like the shift to mobile, which has taken a couple years but has nonetheless happened, Zuckerberg says that the future of social interactions over the internet are going to be in “vision.” That becomes a much easier jump to make when you own the company that’s doing it best.

“We think vision will be the next big platform. It might take 5-10 years to get there, but we’re thinking about the next platforms,” he said. “To help push this forward, [buying Oculus] became a clear decision ... it was about what we could add to each other’s efforts."

And that, for Facebook, meant a company that can actually make hardware. Facebook's own forays into hardware have been nightmares, and Zuckerberg said that the company knows when to give it up. 

"It’s going to take a while for [this] to develop. In terms of our own business model, we’re not a hardware company, we do this as a software and services thing," he said. 

That next service is going to be teleporting you wherever you want to go.