Facebook’s Oculus Connect 4 developer conference happened last week, and I share some of the highlights including my hands-on impression of the standalone Santa Cruz headset, the latest updates from Facebook Spaces, and a number of updates to be delivered later in 2017 and 2018 including a new VR 3DUI called Dash. Dash is built with React VR, and will be providing immersive computing functionality including being able to pin windows applications within the context of VR apps.

darshan-shankarOculus’ Dash functionality is starting to overlap some of the feature set of BigScreenVR, which just raised another $11 million dollars proving that immersive computing may be one of the first real killer apps of VR that could drive adoption. I had a chat with Darshan Shankar, who was optimistic that major companies like Microsoft and Facebook are starting to bake some of these screensharing features within their core functionality since it shows that immersive computing is a compelling use case. Shankar sees screensharing as a legacy feature that is helping BigScreen bootstrap a user base that is willing to have other immersive social experiences in watching movies or other events in VR, and he talks about some of his plans for BigScreen on mobile VR and making BigScreen the goto cross-platform, social VR application.

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Here’s the keynote from Oculus Connect 4:

Here’s the Facebook Spaces tour of Puerto Rico that Zuckerberg later apologized for. The tour had a tone-deaf quality that uses the tragedy of Hurricane Maria into a marketing pitch for virtual reality & Facebook Spaces.

During the Oculus Connect keynote, Zuckerberg reiterated that he sees that VR has the potential to provide a more optimistic vision of the future, but at the same time Facebook Spaces has not implemented any way of expressing sad facial expressions. You can use the Oculus Touch joysticks to have your avatar look surprised, shocked, confused, listening, and happy, but they haven’t implemented sadness yet. So having cheery and smiling cartoon avatars take a virtual tour of a disaster area made it clear how big of a disconnect there is between Facebook’s optimistic view on the potential of VR versus the emotional weight and intensity of the harsh reality of the real world.

If Facebook really wants to get a billion people in VR, then they’re going to have to come a long way in telling the story of how VR can get us more present and connected within our mundane realities. Also Facebook will eventually need to eliminate the abstractions in how we express emotions in VR, but they’re going to need to address the many open questions around the privacy of our biometric data and what their plans are to move beyond their existing business models of surveillance-based capitalism.

In my previous interview with BigScreenVR’s Shankar, he told me that BigScreenVR was built with privacy in mind with peer-to-peer encryption, and by not having any information shared or stored on the BigScreenVR’s server. The privacy features of BigScreenVR is a key factor in why it’s been able to be so successful in driving adoption. While Facebook Spaces has a lot of amazing features, it’ll be interesting to see whether or not the permissive and vague privacy protections of Facebook will prove to be a limiting factor towards Facebook’s goal in reaching one billion users in VR>

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Music: Fatality & Summer Trip

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