Over the past few months, Mark Zuckerberg has dropped a number of hints that Oculus would only be part of Facebook’s strategy to tackle immersive video and virtual reality.
On Wednesday, the company made good on those hints by releasing Facebook 360, a standalone app for the Samsung Gear VR.
Available via the Oculus mobile app, Facebook 360 offers roughly 1 million 360-degree videos and 25 million 360-degree photos on Facebook, both from personal creators and professional producers like CNN VR, GoPro, VR network Blend Media and others.
Immersive content is presented in four main categories: Timeline (your 360 stuff), Saved (360 content from the News Feed you’ve saved), Following (360 shared by your friends) and Explore (popular content from professional creators and companies). And like the 360 videos on Facebook via desktop, you can add emoji reactions to any video in the 360 app.
Frequent users of the Gear VR might recognize the 360 content offerings in this new app—they appear to mirror the same options presented in Oculus Rooms, a Gear VR-only app that lets you share VR environments with friends while playing games and watching videos. However, there doesn’t appear to be any direct connection between the Facebook 360 app and Oculus Rooms.
It might seem odd that Facebook is dividing its VR efforts into two baskets: Facebook and Oculus. But I get it.
For now, this may be the best way to push Facebook community features in the realm of VR without simultaneously forcing Oculus Rift users to use Facebook (a move that could sour some users, who aren’t fans of Facebook, on the Oculus Rift, which is still fairly young as a product). However, the key here is “for now,” because it seems almost inevitable that Oculus Rift users will be increasingly be pushed to marry their Oculus Rift devices to a Facebook account. Of course, Facebook has made no such claim, that’s just a (only slightly) cynical guess on my part.
What will be interesting to see in the coming months and years is how Facebook decouples or merges Oculus’ and Facebook’s VR efforts based on internal user numbers and overall traction. As the biggest social network on the planet, where Facebook takes VR and immersive 360 content may signal where the space goes in general.
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