When it comes to Oculus, just what was Facebook thinking? Probably it was thinking about games and future forms of interaction. After all, Facebook is not the new hotness anymore; it’s the very public, very business-like center of the technology market. And even Google doesn’t go on buying sprees like this.
Now that Facebook is a public company, it has to behave just like any other public company, or any other shark: It has to grow, it has to keep moving, it has to eat. This is why Facebook paid US$19 billion for WhatsApp, and why it’s dropping $2 billion on Oculus.
WhatsApp brought a lot of new users for Facebook, all of them earning something like 10 cents a piece for the company. By contrast, when AT&T tried to buy T-Mobile for $39 billion, they would have earned around $50 per user, per month. That’s some actual profit, not just a list of users, which is, essentially, all Facebook bought with WhatsApp.
When it comes to Oculus, however, Facebook will have to go through some serious contortions to make it look like this was a smart move. The company is obviously still addicted to its video games, despite the fact that Farmville and the like have all dropped off from their big-hit levels. Does that mean Facebook’s future is in higher production-level games?
Looking at the Oculus buy, you’d think so. But that’s a terrible idea for Facebook. First, the Oculus Rift is no longer unique. Sony, Valve, and a dozen startups all have headsets they’re showing off. Sony’s was on display at GDC, and Valve’s has yet to come to public light, but is rumored to be even better than the Oculus.
Long story short, VR is clearly one of the next big things, even if people don’t care. There are enough companies that think people do care that this will be a major trend for at least a few years. If it does catch on, things will change drastically for UI design, but as a glasses wearer, I am still skeptical. It’s hard to wear these devices without 20/20 vision, or at least without a glasses prescription that is included as eyepieces within the Oculus. My prescription is not included…
But there are more reasons to hate on this technology, not the least of which is the fact that Facebook could very likely be trying to build Snow Crash or the Lawnmower Man, or worse yet, Second Life Part 2. It is somehow appropriate that Facebook now actually owns a device you can strap to your face. Let’s just hope they don’t go integrating it into the site too soon. I don’t want to see most of my friends in VR 3D.