NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Facebook (FB) announced Tuesday that it acquired virtual reality technology company Oculus VR for $2 billion, making the social networking company the latest heavyweight in virtual reality technology. Oculus makes the Oculus Rift, a virtual-reality game headset originally funded on Kickstarter for $2.4 million. (Those funders, by the way, will get nothing in this deal.)
Facebook has big competitors in this territory already. Google (GOOG) has long touted the augmented reality available in its hotly debated Google Glass and Sony (SNE) has been working on Project Morpheus -- a virtual reality headset under development for Playstation.
"While the applications for virtual reality technology beyond gaming are in their nascent stages, several industries are already experimenting with the technology, and Facebook plans to extend Oculus' existing advantage in gaming to new verticals, including communications, media and entertainment, education and other areas," said Facebook in its news release. "Given these broad potential applications, virtual reality technology is a strong candidate to emerge as the next social and communications platform."
In a press release announcing the Facebook deal, Oculus said, "Over the next 10 years, virtual reality will become ubiquitous, affordable, and transformative, and it begins with a truly next-generation gaming experience. This partnership ensures that the Oculus platform is coming, and that it's going to change gaming forever."
My question is: who has time to wear a computer?
Sure, virtual reality headsets may make video games more entertaining, and there is always the chance that virtual reality systems could take on a Lawnmower Man-esque ability to help people supercharge their learning (presumably without the early 1990's B-movie horror aspect).
Will social media ever exist in what Oculus calls the "metaverse"? Probably. Science fiction has shown dozens, if not hundreds, of scenarios in which people connect virtually. In real life things certainly seem to be moving in that direction.
The big question is whether it pays to invest this early in the game, and whether these companies' moves are going to make the key difference in the field. The answer is probably not.
The fact is, virtual reality is still in its infancy. It is hard to say where the next big player will emerge.
Oculus, Morpheus, Google Glass -- each has a chance to skyrocket as a dominant technology or fall flat. Virtual reality technology and the players in the field are going to shift dramatically before anything really comes to market, and so will public opinion and perception.