Just this year, Facebook made live streaming possible, so that we — we being the 1.65 billion people using the social networking site — can watch the concert our friends are attending as it's happening, or the protest, or even just tune is as they eat a bag of Doritos.
But what if affordable, high quality virtual reality technology made it possible for us to also see the singer on stage in 3-D; to turn around and check out how long the line is for the bar; to feel like we were actually there?
That's what Facebook is working on next. In 2014, Facebook's co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg shelled out $2 billion to purchase the company Oculus, which makes virtual reality goggles and software. Today, Oculus has developed two products with Facebook: the Oculus Rift and the Samsung Gear VR, a more portable product made in collaboration with the electronics company.
It's safe to say that Zuckerberg thinks virtual reality will be a big part of Facebook's future if he was willing to spend billions to acquire Oculus. (Although that's still only a fraction of his net worth, valued at over $57 billion.)
"VR is just another tool in that toolkit to connect [Facebook users] to other experiences that they might not get elsewhere," a Facebook spokesperson says. "It’s allowing you to travel to other parts of the world, to experience another culture, to open your opinion to others. Our visions [Facebook and Oculus] are very much the same."
Facebook is currently on a 21-city tour of the US to test out their their products on the American public, and particularly on people who've never tried VR before. They kicked off the tour at the State Fair in September, and starting today they'll post up shop in a storefront in Stonebriar Mall through Jan. 3. The experience is totally free.
"We're trying to show up to unexpected places," says the spokesperson. "The goal here is to really bring an intro to VR to tons and tons of people who might not have tried it."
Visitors to Stonebriar will see the same scenes shown to visitors at the fair, including a Cirque du Soleil show and an elephant in its natural habitat. The wearer has a 360 view, so they can turn around in addition to moving forward and backward in space. But it's a passive more than an interactive experience, the spokesperson says, so it's still only a taste of what virtual reality will likely have to offer in the future.
Facebook is hoping these demos will entice people of all ages — even your less computer literate parents and grandparents — to get behind virtual reality and recognize its possibilities. "It's a new technology and a new industry that people aren't sure of," the spokesperson says.
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And it sounds like their stint at the fair accomplished just that.
"Everyone is walking out of there with smiles, completely blown away and wowed by the awesomeness of VR," the spokesperson says. "It is something they probably thought they'd never see in their lifetime."
Of course, if you'd rather try virtual reality in the comfort of your own home than trek all the way to Stonebriar in Frisco, you can always buy an Oculus Rift for $599.
Facebook will demo Samsung Gear VR during mall hours at Stonebriar Centre, 2601 Preston Road, through Jan. 3.