Mark Zuckerberg is optimistic about the future of virtual and augmented reality. At his Facebook F8 conference keynote, Zuckerberg said that the company was working on “a whole new set of social experiences” across VR platforms, echoing an announcement the company made earlier this year. “Virtual reality has the potential to be the most social platform, because you actually feel like you’re right there with another person,” he said, referencing an Oculus Rift “toybox” demo that lets two people play together in VR. But in the coming decade, Zuckerberg sees a progression that many people have predicted: that virtual reality will merge with augmented reality and become part of everyday life.
Over the next 10 years, the form factor’s just going to keep on getting smaller and smaller, and eventually we’re going to have what looks like normal-looking glasses that can do both virtual and augmented reality. And augmented reality gives you the ability to see the world but also to be able to overlay digital objects on top of that.
So that means that today, if I want to show my friends a photo, I pull out my phone and I have a small version of the photo. In the future, you’ll be able to snap your fingers and pull out a photo and make it as big as you want, and with your AR glasses you’ll be able to show it to people and they’ll be able to see it.
As a matter of act, when we get to this world, a lot of things that we think about as physical objects today, like a TV for displaying an image, will actually just be $1 apps in an AR app store. So it’s going to take a long time to make this work. But this is the vision, and this is what we’re trying to get to over the next 10 years.
Palmer Luckey, inventor of the Oculus Rift headset that Facebook acquired in 2014, has previously predicted that augmented and virtual reality headsets will merge into a single piece of hardware that people carry around or wear like a pair of glasses. Granted, that’s going to be harder than it might sound. Right now, virtual and augmented reality headsets use fundamentally different visual technology, and it’s difficult for a pair of small glasses to block out the outside world the way a VR headset can.
But the photo sharing technology Zuckerberg’s describing is already plausible on an early augmented reality headset like the Microsoft HoloLens. So is the idea of selling apps to simulate physical objects, although we hope he wasn’t being literal about paying an extra dollar to simply simulate a video screen. Judging by the ambivalent response to early augmented reality headset Google Glass, it may actually be tougher to sort out the social norms than the pure technology — an issue Facebook should be more than a little familiar with.