Virtual Reality (VR) has been touted as the next big thing many times before, but never really taken off. This could be another one of those times, but it does seem now as if technology, and crucially the affordability of that technology, is going to enable VR to start to realize it's potential.
The levels of investment in VR around the industry shows that most of the major players are taking it very seriously. Facebook spent $2 billion to buy Oculus back in 2014, Samsung and Google already have consumer headsets, as do HTC with their promising Vive. Google have also established a standard minimum specification for mobile VR on Android as part of the Daydream platform. Microsoft have so far been heavily focused on Augmented Reality solutions. Apple have been relatively quiet but you can be sure that they have research teams analyzing the technology and it's potential behind closed doors. The key products at the moment are all for users to consume VR content, headsets to provide an immersive experience of a virtual world created by a developer. A new team at Facebook are now trying to solve the next step, namely how to enable consumers to create their own virtual experience. Enabling users to easily generate their own content would push forward not just hardware and software sales, but also the social media sharing and engagement.
The dedicated Facebook team is said to have tripled in size since it's inception in late 2015, based on the experience of developers who joined Microsoft including Rick Szeliski and Matt Uyttendaele. They have already implemented the ability for users to view 360-degree photos within Facebook as one of their first projects. Creating those photos at the moment still requires dedicated software to stitch together a number of still images, or dedicated 360-degree cameras that are unlikely to become mainstream unless they either become more affordable or are somehow incorporated into phones. Gaming and niche applications such as real estate sales are usually considered at the forefront on the arguments for VR. Gaming will surely have a key role to play, but what if consumers could more easily create and share interactive 360-degree still images and video? Then it might well be social media that pushes VR forward as a mainstream format.