Facebook acquiring Oculus brought a lot of mixed emotions to the gamer and tech communities. Most of the world however, didn’t even notice.
Facebook is trying to buy a ticket into the future, Mark Zuckerberg imagines a future with an Oculus Rift in every home. How would that future look like? How far is it? Virtual Reality technology needs to reach certain milestones before it can become appealing to the general public. The great thing about this is that the same things that will make Oculus great for everyone are the ones that will make it great for gaming. Everybody wins.
We’ve heard that this is the time for VR; technology is finally here and it only takes an exceptional implementation to make a great VR headset. Resolution, latency, tracking, etc, are all getting better and Oculus has been hard at work developing the consumer version of the Rift. The meaning of consumer however, changed dramatically when Facebook announced the acquisition. While gamers would be a lot more forgiving if they had to “get used” to the Rift, mainstream consumers will need an incredibly polished experience out of the box.
I wanted to go a year or two into the future and imagine the Oculus Rift for everyone, the one that would do for peripherals what the iPhone did for smartphones, and constraint my design to something that could be technically feasible.
It looks like flexible screens are the next big gimmick the TV industry is using to try to make you buy a new TV after 3D television failed to catch up. Oculus could really benefit from using a flexible screen though, allowing for a smaller profile and improved optics.
Around six years ago, I stumbled upon this great example of binaural audio that promised a “virtual haircut”. It’s just a technical demonstration, but those four and a half minutes are one of the most memorable virtual experiences I’ve ever had. I have remembered throughout the years and shared with friends and family for their amusement.
Oculus should not only be a window into other worlds, but a portal. I believe sound is an indispensable element to the experience; the ability to achieve presence even with your eyes closed.
When the Leap Motion was first revealed, it looked like the future of user-machine interaction. Turns out it does a lousy job controlling our current systems, and for a very good reason. While our current interfaces are pixel sharp, two-dimensional and click based, the Leap is imprecise, three-dimensional and gesture based. VR is the perfect match for a system like that. Hand gestures will be used mainly for navigation and simple control, but will be essential for standalone interaction.
I completely drifted away form the aggressive shapes normally found in gaming hardware. The consumer Rift needs to be subtle and friendly, it doesn’t need ornaments to stand out. It also needs to be approachable, as it faces the risk of intimidating the consumer.
Beyond the Headset
Oculus will attempt to become much more than a gaming peripheral company. In order to do so, the Oculus Rift has to enable a wide range of experiences across a wide range of markets. Education, design, engineering, research, etc. But most importantly, immersive new kinds of entertainment.
Whether it’s a documentary, a concert, a spacewalk or POV wing suiting, Oculus will enable us to experience and consume media like never before. Therefore, one of the most important pieces of the puzzle is not inside the headset at all. Oculus will need to create amazing tools to enable the creation of this new kind of media; new video and audio formats, delightful development software and most certainly, a specialized camera — GoPro collaboration would be amazing —.
Thinking that Facebook’s plan is to put ads and Farmville inside Oculus is like thinking Apple got into the cellphone market to sell ringtones. The current business model is irrelevant. Facebook aims to create and control a whole new product category. The birth of it is probably going to be very similar to the birth of the modern smartphone seven years ago. In retrospective, that one went pretty well for consumers.
And for those who worry about how going mainstream could ruin it for gamers, just think about what you were playing on your cellphone in 2007.