Facebook has been placing more emphasis on videos and virtual reality, including 360-degree media. Since adding support in 2015, more than 1 million 360 videos and 25 million 360 photos have been published on the social network, but it can be difficult to find them amid all the other media. To alleviate this problem, the company on Wednesday launched a new app called Facebook 360 that will let anyone with a Samsung Gear VR easily discover publicly shared 360 content. This is believed to be the first-ever Facebook-branded VR app out on the market.
Available through the Oculus app on any Gear VR-compatible device, Facebook 360 makes it easier to discover 360 content in a more native way. When you’re on mobile or on your desktop, you can still view and watch photos and videos in this new format, but it’s not as immersive as intended. The real experience comes when you’re in virtual reality, making it seem like you’re actually there watching a chase scene in Star Wars or sand dune jumping with GoPro freeride legend Ronnie Renner.
Besides seeing the latest 360 videos from media companies, organizations, artists, and maybe even your friends, you can easily follow their Pages or profiles from within the Gear VR app. Photos and videos can be saved for viewing at a later time or shared right back to your Facebook page. And, of course, you can access your own 360-degree content to watch within the VR headset.
To add a bit more engagement to the mix, Facebook has also integrated support for Reactions in its new 360 app, and the company promises “more social features coming soon.”
More than 5 million Gear VR headsets have been sold to date, and Facebook has an interest in seeing Samsung continue to sell its virtual reality device. The social media company leverages its Oculus technology to power the Gear VR and helped to develop the latest version, which now includes a hand controller. Facebook could have launched its 360 app on its own Oculus Rift system, but by opening it up to Samsung’s customers, it gives more people the ability to grasp the potential of virtual reality, at least in its basic form. Then if they wish to go up-market, that’s where Oculus could shine.
Launching Facebook 360 comes as the social network faces some changes, including bringing on board Hugo Barra to lead the VR initiative, after years at Xiaomi and Google. It also happens to be one of the last projects former Parse cofounder James Yu worked on as a product manager on 360 initiatives. He recently announced his departure from the company.