Google is ready to go head to head with Facebook in Virtual Reality (VR) according to a report appearing late last week in the Wall Street Journal. Roughly a year ago Facebook bought VR startup Oculus Rift for $2 billion in cash and stock.
At the time of the acquisition Facebook touted Oculus and VR as a new computing and communications platform. Google is nervous that might be right. According to the WSJ Google is adapting Android to VR:
Google has “tens of engineers” and other staff working on the project. Google plans to freely distribute the new operating system, they said, mimicking a strategy that has made Android by far the most popular operating system for smartphones, powering more than one billion phones.
There are now a range of VR headsets in development or about to launch. They include goggles from Sony and Samsung, which is based on Oculus Rift. At last week’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona Spain, new a number of new headsets were announced.
It’s very clear that Oculus and VR will take the gaming world by storm; they already have. The more interesting question is how much more broadly will VR penetrate into the entertainment or internet mainstream?
Facebook has been actively courting Hollywood filmmakers to create new types of cinematic experiences for Oculus and has also formed its own in-house studio to produce VR films. One can also imagine sports, travel, education, live events, social networking, shopping and more in a VR context. Accordingly there are potentially significant marketing implications to VR.
Anyone who has worn VR goggles knows that they do represent a future “platform,” which is potentially much broader than just gaming. Very soon, when the Oculus and related Samsung goggles go on sale this year, consumer demand will be known. I expect it will be significant.
At Google’s I/O developer conference this past year in San Francisco the company showed off Cardboard, a kind of quick, make-shift answer to Facebook’s more established an polished Oculus (see video below).
Now it appears Google is making a much more serious push into VR. Google has also invested heavily in augmented reality company Magic Leap, which is developing a separate experience that injects images into one’s actual field of vision. This could be part of the future of Google Glass, when or if it relaunches.
If Oculus is the “Apple of VR” then, as it did with the iPhone, Google aims to be the “open-source” alternative. Recognizing how Google quickly penetrated the market with Android, Facebook will likely be ready if that happens.
In the end, as with smartphones, it will be the UI/UX and software applications built on top of the platforms/operating systems that will be of greatest interest and importance to consumers and marketers.
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