Facebook, the world’s largest social-media platform, thinks virtual reality and augmented reality are the future — but one that’s distant.
Mark Zuckerberg’s company reported the results of its third quarter financials today, and the chief executive shared some thoughts about how virtual reality will develop as a business. In March 2014, Facebook acquired the hot startup Oculus VR for $2 billion, and the companies are working toward the release of the Rift headset in the first quarter of next year. But Zuckerberg doesn’t think 2016 is when Facebook and competitors like HTC and Valve will put billions of people into VR — even if the market will eventually generate as much as $150 billion by 2020, according to analysts.
“The first thing that I wanna stress here is that these new platforms take a long time to develop,” Zuckerberg said during a conference call with investors. “We’ve said that VR and AR could be the next big computing platform, but to put that in perspective, the first smartphones came out in 2003. In that first year, Blackberry and Palm Treo both sold around only a few hundreds of thousands of units. And that’s how we think about [VR].”
Facebook chief financial officer David Wehner echoed this and added that it’s too early to expect VR to contribute significantly to the company’s revenues.
“As Mark said, we’re very bullish about the long-term viability of VR, but it’s still very much in the development stage,” said Wehner. “So it’s early to be talking about large shipment volumes.”
But Facebook does have a vision for bridging the gap between today, where almost no one in the public has any experience with VR, to the point where it is a pillar of computing alongside desktops and smartphones.
For Zuckerberg, gaming is the first step.
“We think gaming is the most obvious market,” he said. “There are 200 million to 250 million people in the world that have a [game console] and those are the people who are going to be interested in the kinds of experiences you can have in VR.”
He pointed out that gamers will welcome single-player, solitary experiences that don’t need a network where millions of people are using their VR goggles daily. Instead, gamers will represent the first wave that developers can build on top of with ohter kinds of experiences.
“After that, we’re thinking about video and immersive experiences,” said Zuckerberg. “But until there are millions of units in the market, I don’t expect people to invest heavily in producing that content. And once it has reached the level of the next computing platform, we think it’ll be used primarily as a communication platform — and that’s what we’re really excited about.”