There have been murmurs that VR euphoria might be a bit of a dud, but they clearly haven’t made it to Mark Zuckerberg’s office as Facebook doubles-down on the tech.
Zuckerberg announced the Oculus Go, priced at $199, as the ‘most accessible’ piece of kit the industry has produced to date. And if it proves to be any good, he might have a point. $199 is still perhaps a bit on the expensive side, but it is a price point which has the potential to slip into the mainstream. Association with the Facebook brand won’t hurt it either.
“We believe that one day everyone is going to use virtual reality to improve how we work, how we play and how we connect with each other,” said Zuckerberg at the Oculus Connect conference. “We know the most important technologies don’t start off mainstream, in fact, a lot of them seem almost too crazy or complex to start.
“Conventional thinkers will always say there is something more familiar, so why build a completely new platform. Why build a PC when people only want a word processor. Why build the whole internet, when most people like dialling up through AOL. Why put a computer in your pocket when most people just want a phone that texts well. And why build virtual reality when most people think 2D screens are pretty good today.”
In fairness to Zuckerberg, he does have a point. The naysayers are not usually the ones who the technology is not geared towards. Smartphones didn’t enter the mainstream through the older generations, it was the ones who were in their 20s, 30s and 40s who made them ubiqtuous before the craze moved upwards. The argument could lend itself well to the world of VR as well. It will still be years before the technology penetrates the mainstream, but it will be a different generation of influencers at that point who may be more open to the technology.
This sounds like a logical argument, but Zuckerberg is a very charismatic bloke, and all his charisma will be needed to make this fad a trend. The pitch here is about connecting people in the virtual world. We might call it anti-social, but the generations of tomorrow might not. With every breakthrough the older generations will stick by the anti-social argument, and highlight it wasn’t like that in their day.
The phone meant people didn’t talk to each other in person, texting meant we didn’t talk to each other over the phone, social media platforms meant we didn’t go to the pub for gossip. We might look at virtual reality as an isolated experience, but who is to say future generations (assuming mass market penetration occurs) won’t find a way. It is simply redefining the concept of socialising, as we did with the technology breakthroughs we experienced.
The important thing with all of these breakthroughs is there eventually was a company who managed to get the price right. The Oculus Go bundle, which undercuts one of its main rivals in HTC, does have the potential to make this a reality. And the fact it is tetherless makes a difference as well. All of a sudden we have an affordable and practical device, which can be marketed to teenagers and adults alike, not simply the wealthy early adopters.
This isn’t the polished product which mass production will allow for, it doesn’t have inside-out tracking or fully tracked motion controllers, so it can’t compete with the premium pieces of kit on the market, but this is a product which seems to be designed for everyone. We’re still not entirely convinced the technology will dominate the world in the way Zuckerberg seems to think it will, but at this price point, it is being given every opportunity to make it into the hands of normal people.