After I saw the Oculus Rift at CES, I jokingly told a friend that Google or Facebook would probably buy Oculus VR for billions. This was not a prediction but a real joke since I thought of Oculus Rift's VR goggles as purely a gaming device and, ultimately, a niche product.
But then Facebook bought Oculus VR for $2 billion (£1.2 billion), and it became clear that Facebook sees this as more than a gaming product. Indeed, the $2 billion (£1.2 billion) price tag suggests that it sees its role expanding beyond social networks and that Facebook has a vision that most of us can't comprehend at this time.
The logical use would be incorporating VR into Facebook. Put on the Oculus Rift goggles, log into Facebook, and see and talk to friends as if they were at the same location. Imagine lounging with a friend on a VR beach in Hawaii and feeling as though she were right there, sipping a Mai Tai with you. Or, you could be with friends, "walking" around the grounds of the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre.
If that is what Facebook has in mind it could dramatically change how social media is used and could be worth more than a couple of billion to Facebook in the long run.
However, I think that the better strategic acquirer would have been Google. A few weeks back I was at the TED conference in Vancouver and heard former NFL (American football) kicker Chris Kluwe give a talk about how Google Glass could be used to bring sports fan into the action on the field, as if they were seeing it from the player's viewpoint. He showed a video in which he put on Google Glass and recorded himself on the field being tackled by a defensive lineman. You saw what he saw and heard the point of impact.
Kluwe pointed out that fans wish they were the quarterback and imagine themselves in that role. By combining Google Glass and Oculus Rift, that could become a reality. Fans could see the entire stadium, the broad view of the field from multiple angles, and a wide angle view of the defensive positioning as both teams lined up for the next play.
Intermixing gaming and a real-world glasses viewpoint could change how people view sports forever, and be applied to just about any professional sport played today.
You could apply the marriage of Google Glass and Oculus Rift's VR to all types of life experiences. Imagine seeing and experiencing life in the Space Station from the eyes of the astronauts working in space today. Even if you are not a certified diver you could explore the Great Barrier Reef or explore, as if you were there, a shipwreck like the Titanic. How about the world of entertainment? What would it be like to have the option to view the movie through the eyes of Leonardo DiCaprio or Cameron Diaz? Or what about using this in the medical arena? Perhaps a surgeon could use this to do even more precise robotic surgery over the Internet.
I recently wrote a column about the impact POV cameras have had on things like sports, and their usage with first responders and in business situations where first-person recording is important. But, if you bring Google Glass and Oculus Rift-like VR together, this POV concept goes into overdrive.
My big concern about Facebook buying Oculus Rift is that its focus would clearly be on the social aspect, and that Oculus will not live up to its world-changing potential. Sure, Facebook could do its own Glass product and try to marry them with Oculus Rift. But Facebook's approach would be for its own interests and would probably be proprietary to boot. On the other hand, Google's approach to something like this would be open source in nature, and if done properly could revolutionise the sports industry and change not only the gaming market, but bring new dimensions to all types of apps and real world circumstances.
Google, not Facebook, should have bought Oculus Rift. Let's hope Google is either searching for a similar startup or will make its own version of this product. This idea is powerful and in the right hands could have quite an impact on a lot of people and industries.