Ask Facebook Vice President of VR Hugo Barra what he’s excited about, and he’ll tell you, at least in the here-and-now, it’s cutting the cord.
Oculus on Wednesday announced Oculus Go, the first Oculus headset to go completely cord-free, priced at a competitive $199, that arrives just as the all-in-one headset race is truly picking up.
“Cutting the cord is liberating, of course, from purely a human perspective in that just having freedom of movement is phenomenal,” Barra told Yahoo Finance in an interview this week at Oculus Connect in San Jose, California. “Then, there’s the more ‘metaphorical’ cutting of the cord, which is just going to a fully self-contained, stand-alone device that doesn’t require a PC. Obviously, the fundamental impact of that is that the affordability and the accessibility of the product is just substantially higher,” he said.
Barra, unsurprisingly, has high hopes for Oculus Go sales, although he declines to give specific predictions (That’s in keeping with Oculus overall, which generally does not break out Oculus device sales). But he did speak about an audacious new goal of getting 1 billion people using VR — as announced by Mark Zuckerberg in the keynote address at the annual Oculus Connect conference.
Though Zuckerberg didn’t specify a date by which 1 billion people will be using VR headsets, IDC, a third-party market research firm, estimates that VR and augmented reality shipments will grow from 13.7 million this year to 81.2 million by 2021, with VR devices accounting for well over 70% of that figure. Translation: Zuckerberg’s dream is possible but just not in the short-to-medium term.
“It’s incredible to have an ambitious, aspirational goal like that,” Barra contends. “These kinds of goals are exactly what teams want as sort of the guiding North Star for the product decisions that we have to make every day. You know, getting to a billion users is gonna take a while, of course, but it sets the tone for what we’re trying to do here.”
For Barra and Oculus, at least, it means developing a vast ecosystem of hardware and software that covers a wide spectrum of needs and price points. At the very high end, remains Oculus Rift, which saw its price slashed from $499 to $399 this week; followed by Project Santa Cruz, a higher-end, standalone version of the Rift that hits next year; the newly-announced cord-free Oculus Go; then Gear VR, which pairs with Samsung smartphones to serve up more casual VR experiences.
Oculus also continues to make headway in the software, with offerings like Dash, a new graphic interface that lets users navigate their digital workflow in a virtual setting. Watching Dash demo onstage at Oculus Connect as someone manipulated the digital windows filled with say, messages or their Facebook (FB) News Feed, sparked the same sense of excitement some felt when they glimpsed the futuristic interface in the Tom Cruise 2002 sci-fi flick, “Minority Report.” (The actual execution, of course, is entirely different, but same general underlying concept, not to mention “Wow” factor, are there.)
“[The movie] wasn’t a design inspiration per se, but there’s an element of that vision that applies here,” Barra said with a big grin. “It’s having a highly-immersive experiential 3-D environment that you can use to be productive, to task-switch, do multiple things and so on.”
The potential of VR
Though some people think VR will make people more isolated, Barra thinks the opposite. “VR has this incredible potential to collapse distance and allow people to be together without being physically together,” Barra adds. “If you think about that guiding vision from more of a technology and use-case perspective, with one billion users in VR, you can really begin to imagine a world that’s pretty different, actually, from the world we have today, simply because it’s just so easy for you to be with people that you care about and do things together or go to places together.”
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