For its first foray into hardware, Facebook didn’t turn to its in-house innovative teams. Nor did it try to access customers through their existing devices, such as by pursuing an acquisition of a cell phone manufacturer, computer company, or tablet maker. Instead, Facebook has initiated the purchase of a company whose product is only in the beta testing phase and that promises a sort of futuristic functionality seen mainly in science fiction movies thus far.
Oculus VR is officially a virtual reality firm. But it also makes a headset—in its current form, it looks a little like an opaque SCUBA mask, connected to big, over-ear headphones. The primary design goal for the Rift headset was to enhance gaming experiences. As players can sit back with the Rift on, they hear and see a full periphery of sights as they manipulate their avatars through a game environment. But games are not quite what Mark Zuckerberg has in mind for this latest Facebook acquisition.
Rather, in explaining the $2 billion purchase price, Zuckerberg promised that the Oculus technology would enable social connectivity in totally new ways. In his prediction, people using the devices would be able to interact face-to-face (not just computer-to-computer). Beyond social networking, such capabilities could greatly benefit consumers. For example, patients could show their doctor just what their rash looks like, without having to leave home. People who live in Alabama but who would love to see a Lakers game from courtside seats could have that experience virtually.
Such entertainment and communications capabilities would come as additions to the clear gaming benefits. Yet Zuckerberg warned that Facebook was unlikely to get too deep in the device selling market. Selling Rift headsets is not its goal. Rather, Facebook believes that Oculus has the promise to devise the next major computing platform. And for access to that, Facebook is willing to pay billions in cash and stock options.
Source: Cotton Delo, “Facebook Buys Virtual Reality Device Maker in Bet on ‘Platform of Tomorrow’,” Advertising Age, March 25, 2014, http://adage.com