Facebook is taking some big steps into the next generation of digital connection, with a corporate name change signaling its evolving focus on the expanding metaverse concept, which it believes will help people, and Facebook (or ‘Meta’), evolve their interactive processes, in virtually every way.
Which could have a big impact on how we work and play - and today, Facebook has previewed a few of those next level features at its annual Connect AR/VR conference, including new AR tools, advanced VR options and other, longer-term hardware projects that are set to become central to the new Facebook model.
Here’s a look at some of the key announcements.
Facebook’s first step towards owning the metaverse – even though it’s repeatedly stated that no one company will own the space (we all know Facebook will try anyway) – will be building the essential connective layer that will link people within the digital realm. Horizon Home is Facebook’s key push on this front, with the new platform built into the foundation of the Oculus VR experience.
As explained by Facebook:
“Soon, you’ll be able to invite your friends to join you in Horizon Home, where you can hang out, watch videos, and jump into games and apps together.”
As you can see in the video, users will be able to send messages, make video or audio calls, and arrange meet-ups for collaborative experiences within the digital realm. Which will soon extend even further with features like ‘Venues’, which will enable users to ‘enjoy the energy of live events from the comfort of home’, including NBA games and other sports within the space.
This is a key element of Facebook’s evolving metaverse push, and while it may not be the most sexy, nor exciting of its new announcements, without this connective layer, nothing else works.
Another major announcement is the development of a VR version of the Rockstar Games classic ‘Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas’, providing an even more immersive experience for the millions of GTA fans worldwide.
This is a key next step for VR, because while VR headset sales have been rising, and more developers are coming on board, thus far, there’s been no major, compelling VR titles that have been able to transform it into a bigger, mainstream consideration. The technology is one thing, and there’s an allure in that for niche gaming fans, but the real push for VR lies in attracting the masses, and getting people talking about their VR experiences on a broader scale.
GTA in VR will almost certainly do that, and while it will take some development – and Facebook had no screenshots or examples to share as yet – this could end up being the thing that massively boosts VR adoption.
For context, GTA games have cumulatively sold over 350 million copies worldwide, with the most recent GTA title selling 150 million in its own right. That’s a huge fan base that will be very keen on this next-level experience.
VR for business
Facebook’s also developing new VR tools to better enable home working, leaning into the WFH shift.
Facebook’s says that it’ll soon begin testing its new ‘Quest for Business’ platform, which will enable users to log in to their Quest VR headsets with a Work Account, and will facilitate collaborative work environments, giving you the sense of being in the same physical space as colleagues while working remote.
And that could actually be even more functional than physical desks and spaces, with the capacity to “carry your work from your monitor to Quest 2 and back again”.
“Today we announced that services like Slack, Dropbox, Facebook and Instagram, and many more will soon work in VR as 2D panel apps in Horizon Home, and you’ll be able to download them from the Quest Store.”
Such integrations will provide more collaborative work options, that could revolutionize remote working processes, and improve productivity and engagement.
Facebook also shared details of its upcoming AR development initiatives, including new training programs for aspiring digital creators and advanced spatial understanding in AR, which will facilitate new forms of display and engagement.
On the training front, which will help Facebook build a broader range of AR experiences, the company announced a new ‘Polar’ AR creation app, which will help people with no prior experience in art, design, or programming to build AR experiences.
And finally, Facebook’s launching a new, $150 million initiative “to train the next generation of creators building immersive educational content”.
Elements like this are key in AR innovation, as they expand the pool of creativity beyond Facebook’s own development teams, which will facilitate a far broader range of AR engagement and interaction options across its apps.
World and People AR
Facebook’s also developing advanced AR capacity, with body tracking to facilitate more immersive AR features, and ‘World AR’ geo-anchored experiences.
Snap already has variations of both, with Facebook playing catch up on these tools. But each will form a key part of the company’s evolving AR glasses experience, with digital overlays to be revealed through the frames, providing a range of new utility and entertainment options.
On another front, Facebook’s also working with BMW to develop AR features that could eventually help drivers navigate their surroundings.
The race for AR supremacy will heat up over the coming months, and Facebook will be a key player, and it’ll be interesting to see where it can take its AR glasses, as it advances beyond the initial Ray Ban Stories model.
The Next Level
Facebook’s more advanced AR and VR projects include real-time 3D reconstructions of people, providing realistic depictions of themselves in a digital environment, and its ongoing work on wristbands that can detect nerve impulses and use them as a trigger for digital response.
All of these will play a part in the next stage of digital connection, and while it may still seem like a long way off, these latest advances are coming along, and will be here sooner than you think.
The next level of digital connection will take place in the virtual realm, and as we’ve seen with the rising popularity of NFTs and other digital-only projects, enthusiasm for that next stage is growing. And when you also consider the amount of time young people are now spending in Fortnite, Roblox, and other virtual worlds amid the pandemic, and how that will influence their interactive behaviors, it’s not hard to see the next stage evolving within the current capacity.
That will eventually change everything – and for marketers, that will mean all new opportunities to learn, adapt and develop within your approach.