Facebook's Oculus vs. Google Glass: The Coming War Over Our Eyeballs
Dave Thier - Contributor
Why do you use your technology? Do you use it to enhance the world around you, to navigate streets, check menus and dodge traffic? Or do you use it to escape the world around you, by losing yourself in online worlds, or maybe by talking to people thousands of miles away like they’re in the same room as you? They’re not mutually exclusive, but they are very different. It’s augmented reality vs. virtual reality. And now that Facebook has become the standard bearer for virtual reality in Silicon Valley following its purchase of the Oculus Rift, it squares off against Google GOOG +0.89% and its Glass prototype in a fight for where tech sits in our lives.
First, Facebook. Virtual Reality seeks to improve reality by eliminating it. Reality is fine, but there are all sorts of things we can’t do, places we can’t go, and things we can’t see. VR accepts those limitations, saying that we’re better off starting from scratch with something easier. Reality, of course, is notoriously difficult. It’s not immediately evident how this fits in with Facebook’s Upworthy and baby pictures-focused business model, until you consider what Facebook really is. It’s a virtual space that lets you treat distant friends and relatives like they’re living next door. Virtual reality seeks to make that space even more real.
And then Google. Glass, by its nature, seeks to make technology disappear. Oculus wants us to do things we can’t by pretending that they’re real, but Google wants us to do things we can’t by expanding our capabilities. Reality, according to Google, is great! Just look at those commercials for Glass. We only need a little nudge to get everything we can out of it. It’s right in line with everything Google has done since its inception — search as fast as you can, as efficiently as you can, and get right back to living your life, even if it sort of sucks.
With VR, we can go to Thailand and all the virtual residents can speak English. With AR, we can go to Thailand and get help understanding all the real residents speaking Thai. That assumes, of course, that we can make it to Thailand. Oculus will be cheaper than a plane ticket, I assure you.
I talked to John Hanke, head of Google’s game startup Niantic Labs. He makes “Ingress,” a game that uses location-based tech in a sci-fi world to get people moving around, meeting new people, and sharing their experiences in a game setting. He sees games as a way of imagining new, more fun ways to move through the world like it was a game — maybe a vampire game mixed with a dating app, where you could bite people at clubs and recruit them to your clan with a special cocktail. There will doubtless be a “dating” game equivalent on the Rift, and the porn industry is no doubt hard at work.
These two companies see technology in a fundamentally different way. Google Glass is pointed outward, Facebook and Oculus Rift inward. Glass makes doing things easier, the Rift makes it so you don’t have to really do them at all.
Both visions are somewhat terrifying, it just adds up to whether your dystopia of choice looks more like Neuromancer or Brave New World. And both will likely exist alongside each other for some time. If I had to bet, though — I don’t, but hey, why not — I’d put my money on VR. AR is great if you can afford to live the sort of skydiving, globetrotting lifestyle of a person in a Google commercial, but the income gap is increasing at a blinding speed, real wages are stagnant, and automation, at times, seems capable of concentrating all of humanity’s wealth in a few square miles of the Bay Area. Unless R can work on some of those things, VR might seem like a decent alternative.
- Virtual Reality Games
- 3D Virtual Reality
- Virtual Reality Movies
- Must Have Android Apps
- Latest Gadgets For 2014
- Virtual World Games
- 3D Virtual Chat
- VR Glasses