Facebook, now named Meta, made very few announcements that would affect or even excite enterprise users of the company’s VR and AR tools and technology right now
➨ Connect 2021 revealed Facebook’s new name would be Meta, to better reflect the company’s planned trajectory over the next decade as it invests billions of dollars in building the ‘metaverse’
➨ Most notably, the company revealed that it is working on a new VR and AR headset—just not one that anyone predicted
➨ Oculus plans to begin testing Quest for Business, a new suite of features it says are ‘designed for businesses, but which runs on the same consumer Quest 2 headset you can buy today’
Connect 2021 yesterday revealed Facebook’s new name would be Meta, to better reflect the company’s planned trajectory over the next decade as it invests billions of dollars in building the ‘metaverse’.
But during his 90-minute keynote speech, Mark Zuckerberg and his colleagues made very few announcements that would affect or even excite enterprise users of the company’s virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR) tools and technology right now.
Chief among these was a promise that a Facebook account will not be needed to access Meta hardware, software and services in the future, a major complaint for businesses and professional users worried about privacy and data protection.
‘Successor to the mobile internet’
Dubbed the “successor to the mobile internet”, the metaverse was front and centre of this year’s Connect event, Facebook’s annual update on its VR and AR plans. Last year’s event gave us the fantastic-for-work-and-play Oculus Quest 2 at the knock-down price of $300.
Yesterday’s Connect, however, was Zuckerberg’s big pitch to the wider world about what kind of company Facebook intended to become over the next decade.
The Facebook founder and chief executive officer described and envisioned the next evolution of the internet, in which photorealistic avatars would meet in custom virtual spaces to socialise, work and play.
Facebook’s family of apps, separated now in the company’s financial reporting as it invests up to $10 billion in VR and AR this year with more promised in the future, would take a back seat but be accessible and augmented by headsets and AR glasses, with natural interaction via hand tracking and more, teleportation, full-body avatars, a fully functional digital economy based on technologies such as non-fungible tokens, and wider interoperability with other platforms, the metaverses of its competitors.
None of which, of course, will be readily available within the next 12 months. This could all take up to a decade, Zuckerberg said, when the company aims to have up to a billion active users in its metaverse.
For now, the foundation must be set, the building blocks put in place, beginning with the rebrand. The parent company is now known as Meta with a blue infinity symbol as a logo. This company sits above Facebook, the social media app, as well as WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram.
Oculus is no more. From next year, the brand will transition to the Meta brand, with Oculus Quest becoming Meta Quest and the dedicated app being renamed Meta Quest App.
Horizon, Facebook’s social VR app that has so far remained in beta, will encompass all of its first-party immersive social experiences, so everything Oculus-branded will shift to Horizon Home, Venues, Friends, and Profile. Similarly, Facebook Reality Labs, the division led by chief technology officer Andrew Bosworth, is dropping the first part of its name.
And so completes a corporate revamp, designed to position the former social media company previously known as Facebook as a “metaverse-first” entity.
With the pitch made and future direction of the company set, Zuckerberg and co provided updates on future hardware and software, some of which will be available soon but the majority of which is scheduled for 2022 and beyond.
Most notably, the company revealed that it is working on a new VR and AR headset—just not one that anyone predicted.
Little was revealed about the headset, codenamed Project Cambria. It will be separate from but compatible with Quest, and was described by Zuckerberg as “high-end” and will likely have a price tag to match.
As such, the Cambria headset will do much that Quest cannot, including sensors for tracking facial expressions and maintaining eye contact, full-colour passthrough for better mixed reality and a sense of depth and perspective, and pancake optics that will deliver a better visual experience.
This headset should excite the enterprise market. Used in conjunction with something like Horizon Workrooms, for example, workers will be able to conduct more immersive and productive meetings, thanks to facial tracking. And a better mixed reality experience should mean it is easier to work while wearing the headset.
The other big hardware update was on the company’s planned AR glasses, which the previously announced Project Aria is informing (this bumper update is worth reading) and the newly announced Project Nazaré is realising.
The Nazaré glasses will enable users to view, interact and converse with holograms, beam into live concerts, visit the metaverse for afterparties, trade in digital and physical goods, and much more.
These AR glasses are a long way off, however, with the company working on fitting all kinds of technology, including displays, projectors, batteries and sensors, into glasses that are about 5mm thick. Ray-Ban Stories was a step toward this device, but Zuckerberg admitted that there is a way to go before it becomes a reality.
With these hardware advances penciled in for the future, Facebook is planning a host of software updates to Oculus and Spark AR that the enterprise market will be able to utilise soon.
Bye-bye Oculus for Business
The pipeline at Oculus includes a social Home space, a new platform for 2D internet apps, Quest for Business (which will be accessed via new Work Accounts) for those trying out virtual work, Horizon Workrooms customisation, a fitness-centric accessories pack for Beat Saber Expert+ players, and new tools so developers can build mixed reality experiences.
Perhaps building on Zuckerberg’s promise about dropping the Facebook account requirement, Oculus plans to begin testing Quest for Business, a new suite of features it says are “designed for businesses, but which runs on the same consumer Quest 2 headset you can buy today”.
Oculus says in a blog post: [T]he key difference: Quest for Business will let you log in to your Quest 2 headset with a Work Account, an upcoming business-only login that will allow you to collaborate with coworkers and access productivity apps from the Oculus Store like Horizon Workrooms and Gravity Sketch without using your personal Facebook account details.”
“Quest for Business will also enable companies to access dedicated platform functions that they need, like account management, mobile device management solutions, SSO integration, and more.”
This means the current Oculus for Business will be wound down, presumably losing Facebook a bumper pipeline of Oculus Quest 2 sales in the process (the business headset is more than double the price of the consumer one).
Quest for Business will be available in closed beta this year, expand to more beta participants in 2022, and fully launch to all businesses in 2023.
Bringing 2D web apps into Oculus Store and App Lab should make Quest 2 all the more useful for business and professional users. Services such as Slack, Dropbox, Facebook and Instagram will work in VR as 2D panel apps in Horizon Home, so users will be able to access and enjoy them side-by-side, making VR for work a much more productive experience.
Another important update, perhaps for VR app and game developers rather than business and professional users, is the new Presence Platform, a suite of capabilities that will enable developers to build more immersive mixed reality experiences.
This is particularly notable when you consider the success of Beat Saber, with Facebook revealing that the dance and fitness game has surpassed the $100 million revenue mark. The company sees a profitable future for apps and experiences that utilise mixed reality and provide the kind of physical experience that only VR can.
Through the Presence Platform bundle of software development kits (SDKs), developers will be able to sell mixed reality apps and experiences via Oculus Store, with Unity Labs, Spatial, YouTube VR and others already planning releases.
The new Interaction and Voice SDKs will enable developers to integrate a library of hand interactions and users’ own voices into apps and experiences.
There were also a series of Spark AR updates, with Facebook keen to bring AR technology into the metaverse it envisions building. These include body and hand tracking.
All in all, Connect was a pitch and a plan rather than what will happen in practice. A promise instead of action. But there are plenty of signs that the future of VR and AR are very much mainstream for Facebook, now Meta, and businesses and professional users are a large part of that, as are the third-party developers on which any decent ecosystem relies.
We will not be seeing you in the metaverse anytime soon, but business as usual is certainly getting more interesting.
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