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Facebook's Oculus buy is a bet on the future of computing

Caitlin McGarry | March 27, 2014
Why would a social network buy a virtual reality headset manufacturer? Because VR is the next big platform.


Facebook ignored mobile for so long that it was forced to play catch-up in terms of design, development, and advertising. CEO Mark Zuckerberg doesn't want to miss out on the next Big Thing in technology. So he went and bought himself the coolest tech company around: virtual reality headset makers Oculus.

At first glance, the $2 billion deal announced Tuesday sounds insane. Oculus is an innovative company making really cool gear for gamers, but that has nothing to do with Facebook's stated missions of connecting everyone, understanding the world, and building the knowledge economy. But Zuckerberg said the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset fits perfectly with Facebook's 10-year goals and positions the company to define what he predicts will be the next major computing platform.

It's OK, Zuck. You can admit that you bought Oculus because it's just damn cool.

The Rift is a high-resolution headset that immerses you in virtual reality. We most recently saw a prototype of the product wowing Game of Thrones fans at South by Southwest earlier this month and blowing away competition from Microsoft and Sony at the Game Developers Conference last week. The Rift isn't ready for market just yet, and Zuckerberg couldn't say when it will be. More than 75,000 developers have already ordered kits to create applications that Zuck predicts will go far beyond gaming.

"When you put on their goggles you enter a completely immersive computer-generated environment," he said during a Tuesday call with analysts and shareholders. "You feel like you're actually present in another place with other people. It's completely different than anything I've experienced in my entire life."

Yeah, he's definitely a fan.

The next big platform
Facebook's mobile woes have been well documented: The company took ages to pay attention to its apps, and making money from mobile ads went from zero to 60 in less than two years.

Those days are long gone. Facebook now has more than 1 billion monthly active users on smartphones alone, and more than half of the company's ad revenue comes from mobile. It's time for the company to look beyond phones.

"We feel strong enough on our position that we want to focus on building the next major computing platform that will come after mobile," Zuckerberg said.

Other companies have tentatively explored virtual reality, but Oculus is years ahead. Zuckerberg admitted that Facebook considered building a similar technology from scratch, but wanted the team behind Oculus on their side.

Oculus has focused primarily on gaming applications for the Rift headset, which is a good place to start. But Facebook is already envisioning what Oculus' technological know-how can produce after Rift has shipped.


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