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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.

From sitting courtside at a basketball game to sitting in a classroom taking notes, virtual reality can become the new way that people interact with each other. This isn't about bringing virtual reality to your News Feed or using Rift to take better selfies, as some have joked. Zuckerberg has high-level ambitions for Rift--many of which will take years to realize.

"Imagine sharing not just moments with your friends online, but entire experiences and adventures," he said. "Oculus has the potential to be the most social platform ever."

In that context, the deal sort of makes sense.

What's next for Oculus
Oculus Rift first attracted fans in 2012 with a high-profile Kickstarter campaign, and some of those fans are skeptical about the company's new owner. Minecraft developer Markus Persson has already given up on Rift, and other developers may back out of plans to build apps for the headset in light of Tuesday's deal.

But Oculus is proceeding with its original goals and will continue to operate independently, at least until Rift ships at some undetermined future date. Zuckerberg said Facebook is modeling the deal after the $1 billion purchase of Instagram, which is exactly what he said after buying WhatsApp last month.

"Something we didn't expect in the beginning was how big the potential was for the social experience," Oculus cofounder and CEO Brendan Iribe said on the Tuesday call. "If you can see somebody else and your brain believes they're right in front of you, you get the goosebumps. You start to realize how big this can be. It became incredibly obvious and exciting to us to partner up and create that new social platform."

While fun and games are where Rift will begin, Facebook isn't expecting to make money off hardware sales.

"We're not a hardware company," Zuckerberg said. "We're not going to make a profit of the devices long-term. We view this as a software and services thing."

Zuck hinted at advertising opportunities to come. There's also potential for Rift users to shop at virtual storefronts and buy goods. But virtual reality is a long-term strategy for Facebook, and Zuckerberg hopes an early buy in the space will keep the company from forever playing a game of catch-up it can't win.

 

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