Facebook wants you to take a vacation with friends and family—without leaving the house. Or use your smartphone’s camera to virtually spruce up your dinky bedroom—no wallpaper or paint necessary. But these and other futuristic delights may be far, far away . . . for now.
The promise of augmented and virtual reality was the main focus of a Facebook conference. Augmented means improved or expanded. CEO Mark Zuckerberg kicked off the gathering of programmers and other tech folks. He talked about augmented reality tools he imagines on Facebook.
Augmented reality involves overlaying computer-generated images onto real-world surroundings. For example, a new phone app might let you create a 3-D scene from a photo. Or maybe you could splatter the walls of a room with colorful digital art. (You’d see the digital additions by looking “through” your phone.)
Zuckerberg envisions joining augmented reality with Facebook’s camera feature. Apps could enable people to make even dull chores—like doing the dishes—appear entertaining. Of course, features like that could also cause people to stare even more at their smartphones instead of their actual surroundings.
Still, Zuckerberg predicts, “Over time, I think this is going to be a really important technology that changes how we use our phones.”
Facebook also launched a virtual world called Facebook Spaces. Spaces lets its $500 Oculus Rift VR (virtual reality) headset users hang out with avatar versions of their friends in a virtual world. It’s the first time the company has connected the Rift to its social network in a major way.
The idea behind Spaces is interesting. But some folks who tried Spaces say it may be cool at first. But playing tic-tac-toe or walking around with cartoon figures of your friends just isn’t worth paying for the equipment or strapping on the awkward headset.
For its augmented reality features, Facebook has focused on smartphones over high-tech glasses or headsets. These platforms are much more familiar, says tech analyst Brian Blau.
“People already have cameras and are used to having fun and being creative with them,” he says. “This will give people a chance to experience augmented reality in a way that isn’t so scary or off-putting.”
Facebook execs stress that augmented reality technology hasn’t arrived quite yet. In fact, Facebook’s Deb Liu says the “journey to the future of augmented reality is just one percent finished.” Considering that percentage, it seems the journey has barely begun.