When a hot startup launches a virtual reality product, influencers and investors notice. When Facebook and Google bet on virtual reality, the whole world notices. Recently these two market makers unveiled their VR visions and plans at their own bellwether events, Facebook F8 and Google I/O. Both their plans are important because Facebook and Google possess the resources and reach to make VR more mainstream to everyday consumers faster than any startup ever could. Both their visions are intriguing. I believe Google’s is more compelling and far-reaching.
At F8, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg articulated a simple, clear vision for VR: social VR, or connecting two or more people in the virtual world. Social VR is intuitively easy to grasp even if you don’t know how we’ll get there. Facebook users (wearing Facebook’s Oculus Rift headsets, naturally) can explore virtual worlds together, ranging from virtual Ping-Pong matches to virtual excursions to Bali, which makes posting information on each other’s wall seem quaint by comparison.
During his F8 keynote, Zuckerberg said, “VR has the potential to be the most social platform because you have the ability to be right there with another person.” But Facebook doesn’t just talk vision — the world’s largest social network shows it. Accordingly, Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer, wearing an Oculus Rift headset and using controllers, demonstrated a shared VR experience with Michael Booth of Facebook’s Social VR team, who was 30 miles away and also using Oculus Rift. Together, they visited London through VR — or at least their avatars did, projected on a giant screen. The F8 attendees oohed and aahed as their floating avatars checked out Piccadilly Circus and took a selfie together in front of Big Ben.
The moment was a brilliant bit of theater that instantly injected excitement into the Facebook brand and gave us a glimpse at what social VR can look like. Afterward, Lance Ulanof of Mashable spoke for many pundits watching when he wrote, “Bravo, Facebook. Social VR is now officially something I want in Facebook. You made me want it, damn you.”