Facebook’s Oculus Is Making Virtual Reality More Social

Before Oculus released virtual reality goggles, there was a lot of buzz about virtual reality  in the tech world. Everyone wanted to the know how virtual reality would revolutionize the industry. Unfortunately, Oculus’ virtual reality Rift goggles did not go over quite as well as they’d hoped.

Sure, virtual reality was talked about and people thought it was “cool”, but it just never broke through into the mainstream market. After Oculus released the Rift goggles, it had to deal with competition from Sony Corp and HTC corp, in addition to a string of gaffes that took away from their business. More recently, founder Palmer Luckey received negative backlash due to his political views from the developers that Oculus depends on.

Oculus is trying to come back strong, recently announcing that it is producing a new lower-end headset. This headset would not need to be tethered to a personal computer or a mobile phone. Oculus also unveiled Touch hand controllers for grabbing and moving virtual objects. These controllers will sell for $199.doug-macfaddin-03_Oculus-Full-Lockup-Horizontal-Black

But the change to virtual reality that truly has the potential to change the landscape of virtual reality is an initiative by Facebook to make virtual reality social. At an annual developer conference called Oculus Connect, Facebook demoed complex avatars that users can customize to look like themselves. These avatars are able to express emotions such as anger and shock, in addition to smiling and laughing.

Zuckerberg has been emphasizing for while now his desire to change his social network to a place where people can feel they are conversing face to face. A few months ago, he further elaborated upon this dream at F8, so we are not surprised to see that he has come up with something new and exciting to change the Facebook.

In addition to being able to create custom avatars and choose emotions, you can choose the background to a life location. The demo showed Zuckerberg’s avatar entering his home, where he could check on his dog.

The platform also allows users to get creative, by letting people draw and play with their creations. Through the Oculus Avatar feature, people are allowed to interact with people all throughout the world using their avatars.

It seems that maybe virtual reality will finally appeal to the mainstream user given these new changes. It’s anyone’s guess whether Oculus will experience the surge in success they’ve been hoping for.

Microsoft: The Tech Market’s Comeback Story

shutterstock_140495338-msftMicrosoft, up until the past few years, was always considered the pinnacle of technological innovation in the realm of consumer products. The name itself would strike fear in the hearts of technology executives of all backgrounds; a wolf amongst sheep. However, Microsoft’s name has become a punchline amongst today’s technorati, a joke about the diminishing marginal returns on putting all your eggs in one basket as far as innovation goes, a formerly dominant company becoming a plodding kludge. Recent history of Microsoft has been rife with missed release deadlines, delayed products, and cancelled features, to the point of disheartening consumer and enterprise users the world over.

The rest of the tech market has moved vastly quicker than Microsoft has. Between 2006-2008 Apple introduced the iPhone, Amazon introduced AWS, Google brought about Andriod, and Facebook debuted its News Feed. Those innovations alone encompass a great deal of innovation in their wake, making those four companies the “quadrumvirate of tech” making some comment that Microsoft simply no longer belongs on the list of top tech companies.

However, Microsoft has always had the critical ingredients for success. Consumers want always-portable, always-available, always-usable data across all our devices and applications, allowing us to constantly be in touch, productive, or entertained depending on our mood. From Office to XBox, Microsoft has all of the individual tools and products it needs to fulfill all of our wildest tech fantasies. Yet, by the same token, Microsoft has seemed plagued with constant inefficiency and political strife which inhibited the company from permanently establishing itself as the key brand in the tech market; a position that has been usurped completely by a dominant split between Google and Apple.

However, as Bob Dylan once said, the times they are a changin’. Sampling from some recent news out of Microsoft’s camp in the past few weeks, it seems Microsoft is making a push to become relevant again. Recently Microsoft announced that it launched Office across all devices, including on iPad and Android to some decent acclaim. Additionally, Microsoft is building a very disruptive startup lab headed by a well known executive from DARPA to take on the likes of GoogleX. Bing is now responsible for nearly 19% of all search queries in the United States, slowly pushing against Google’s dominant search engine market share. It’s even making Skype group calls free as of just days ago.

Most importantly however, Microsoft seems ready to embrace the cloud. Microsoft’s new CEO, Satya Nadella, published a letter a month ago outlining a renewed focus on positioning Microsoft at the center of this new cloud based world by creating a “cloud for everyone, on every device.” Almost over night it seemed that Microsoft was finally ready to make the next big push by harnessing its full energy, it’s $20 billion in revenue and $5.66 billion in Q1 net earnings that it had announced only days ago. A Microsoft with a strategy, a vision, is a deadly force in the race for tech supremacy, a race that’s comparable to the US/USSR cold war arms race at this point. All four of the quadrumvirate are highly vulnerable at the moment due to the market convergence created by similar products that depend on devices and the cloud. Continuous engagement is at the heart of these companies’ strategies, and consumers are salivating over a new entrant into the market. 

Facebook/WhatsApp Buyout Considerations

facebook_whatsapp_coverFacebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum have joined with an impressive $19 billion deal. The two met in February about the deal and Zuckerberg added the incentive of adding Koum to Facebook’s board. The advantage for Facebook is that WhatsApp is used internationally in areas where Facebook isn’t. This will give Facebook a more varied user population with a varied demographic. The deal will give Facebook access to WhatsApp’s 450 million global users. It is not quite clear how this will continue Zuckerberg’s quest to connect the whole planet, but he clearly has a plan.

This acquisition makes Facebook Silicon Valley’s top Dealmaker. They have made large deals before, but the large sum they forked over for WhatsApp makes Facebook the largest dealmaker over the search engine giant, Google.

It will take many steps for Facebook to connect the whole world. WhatsApp is one important step. They have many users in emerging countries like India, Mexico, and Brazil. Next, Zuckerberg may look to chat apps like WeChat, Kakao Talk, and Viper, which are primarily used in China, South Korea, and the Middle East respectively.

Facebook has just spent billions of dollars acquiring Instagram and now WhatsApp. It is unlikely the company will now continue to pursue the ephemeral photo app, Snapchat. Although Zuckerberg has made acquisition offers and campaigned hard for the company before, he is unlikely to continue his pursuit. Beyond Zuckerberg, the co-founder of WhatsApp, Brian Acton has issued some pretty harsh remarks against Snapchat and what the company offers so it is very unlikely a deal will occur.

Investors initially seemed wary of the Facebook/WhatsApp buyout, but after Zuckerberg and Koum spoke the shares went back up. Now only time will tell how the market will respond to this new acquisition.