Facebook is reportedly toying with virtual reality beyond its Oculus Rift consumer headset. The company may be building a mobile app that would allow people to watch 360-degree spherical videos, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Such technology would allow consumers to tilt their phones to see different angles and perspectives of the same video, which would have to be composed from multiple cameras. Facebook engineers are reportedly developing a standalone mobile app that supports the feature. The project is in early stages, and the launch date is unclear, according to people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to the Journal.
While it is reportedly being worked on as a standalone mobile app, the system could later be incorporated into the Facebook app and desktop site. The company has previously tested such new developments in that format. For example, Facebook released a news reader called Paper under Facebook Creative Labs in 2014. The app boasted interactive features and a clean design, both of which embody the company's "Instant Articles" initiative with media outlets.
This development isn't the company's first foray into virtual reality, nor is it surprising. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly emphasized the importance of video for the future of the social network, and that initiative has included spherical video. Zuckerberg said at the company's developer's conference in March that the site would soon feature spherical video in the News Feed.
"If you look back at Facebook five years ago, most of the content that people shared was text," Zuckerberg said at the event, according to Motherboard. "Now, it’s photos. If you fast forward five years it’s going to be video, and if you look even further beyond that, it’s probably going to be more immersive content," like virtual reality and augmented reality. In the former, people are immersed in a full-screen, virtual experience, such as wearing a headset, while in the latter, participants can interact with virtual objects blended into the real world.
Last year, Facebook made a big investment in virtual reality. The 11-year-old company acquired Oculus Rift for $2 billion. That division will release its first consumer headset in 2016 for $350. Other companies have also been working on other alternatives. Google released an inexpensive headset called Cardboard. Samsung is creating Gear VR. Sony is creating Project Morpheus, and HTC is building Vive -- both of which are expected in early 2016. Microsoft is building a more sophisticated system, called HoloLens, that supports augmented reality.
Spherical video has risen to popularity on other online networks. As the Journal notes, Google's YouTube and Google’s Chrome browser added support for spherical videos in March.