Its Oculus Rift virtual reality headset is expected to enter the market early next year, but Facebook is reportedly also exploring other ways to bring the VR experience to its users. The social networking giant is said to be developing an app that would let smartphone users view 360-degree videos, also known as spherical videos.
Earlier this year, Facebook revealed that it would add support for spherical videos in its News Feed feature that would eventually include live videos in 360-degree format, CEO Mark Zuckerberg (pictured) said during the company's F8 developer conference in March.
Facebook acquired the VR company Oculus for $2 billion in 2014. In addition to the Rift, Oculus is also working to develop a virtual-reality device called Gear VR that will work with Samsung's smartphones.
'Inventing the Future of Virtual Reality'
Citing "people familiar with the matter," the Wall Street Journal noted yesterday that Facebook's spherical video app would work on both iOS and Android devices. "Development of the app is in early stages and it is unclear when or if the app will launch," according to the article.
Facebook has not publicly discussed such an app on its Web site. However, in a post on his Facebook page earlier this month, Zuckerberg featured a link to a Vanity Fair article about how the company is inventing the future of VR with Oculus.
"Every new generation of technology gives us new and more immersive ways of connecting," Zuckerberg said. "Now we have a chance to create the most immersive experience of all -- the feeling of 'presence' -- that you're actually there. This is going to change the way we play, learn, communicate and collaborate."
'Very Good News' for VR Market
"I believe the app is intended for users without VR headsets, so this is very good news for the VR market," KZero CEO Nic Mitham told us. "I think one of the purposes of this FB app is to introduce new people to the overall concept of 360-degree videos (i.e., boost awareness) therefore providing an up-sell path to purchase a VR headset." KZero is a UK-based consulting firm for companies operating in the virtual space.
"I think we're about six months away from the first critical mass point of VR adoption," said Mitham, also the CEO of the virtual-reality app store WearVR. Early devices like Google Cardboard are already selling well, but the coming launch of consumer devices from Oculus and HTC "will propel the market to the masses," he added.
Spherical video is already being adopted for a number of purposes, in particular for tourism, sports and entertainment, Mitham said. "Another very interesting genre that is likely to take-off in the near future is 360-degree reporting of news events, i.e., VR journalism," he said.