‘Full augmented reality is a few years away,’ but Spark AR is a big focus for the company, according to Mark Zuckerberg during the Facebook Q4 2019 earnings call. The call also notes a major increase in R&D spend, partially driven by their AR and VR efforts.

On virtual reality, Mr Zuckerberg wants to build the next computing platform, based on the connections between people. He notes that the defining characteristic of VR and AR is the sense of presence, which they want to continue to build further with their platforms. It is also worth noting that, on Christmas Day, people bought $5 million worth of content on the Oculus Store.

Mr Zuckerberg also hinted that the Oculus and Facebook app will integrate more in the future, but not yet.

‘My goal isn’t to be liked, but to be understood,’ Mr Zuckerburg also declared, as he wants to be more transparent on his actions in the company. He described it as making it clear on the initiatives Facebook is up to.

As a wider company initiative, he wants to focus on privacy. The team wants to ensure they are regulated effectively to sway ‘high levels of scrutiny’ they faced over the last few years. Private social platforms are a focus for that reason. This also rolls into the payments system which Facebook are focusing on as well. This would be rolled out to the 2.3 billion using their services daily.

The insights came from Facebook’s Q4 2019 earnings call, where they outlined their success over the last three months. The spokespeople noted that the call may feature forward-looking statements that may not be accurate to reality.

The Oculus Quest and Oculus Rift S are not competitors, but one is being phased out. Credit: Oculus
The Oculus Quest and Oculus Rift S are not competitors, but one is being phased out. Credit: Oculus

Analysis

On augmented reality, it is interesting that they made clear ‘full AR’ is a few years away. This may be a hint that their heavily-rumoured AR glasses would not be around for some time, while they are experimenting further with the tech. We may not see the glasses in 2020, and perhaps even 2021.

But still, their focus is on Spark AR and its use as a platform. The application will have a short-term effect on users making their fun experiences on their social platforms. I also wonder whether Facebook will expand the platform further, perhaps with gesture integration similar to Google’s offering. Spark AR is a powerful platform, and I look forward to seeing how its capabilities would improve.

On virtual reality, Mr Zuckerberg focused on the poster-child of the industry, the Oculus Quest. The company consistently mentions the headset and how effective it is. The fact that $5 million of content has been sold across Oculus stores is effective as well.

Time will tell whether a replacement headset will be released soon. But for now, their focus on high-quality content available only on their ecosystem may help push them to the next stage. I also wonder how their purchase of Beat Games will bring about this or next year.

Sean Liu discussing the Oculus platform. Photo credit: Facebook.
Sean Liu discussing the Oculus platform. Photo credit: Facebook.

The high rise in R&D, driven in part to AR and VR, indicates that Facebook will continue to strongly support the industry, with little risk of backing away in the short-term.

One big hint Facebook dropped was that Facebook wants to build beyond just ‘texting’ friends and ‘hanging’ out with new people in safe and private spaces. This could be a hint at Facebook Horizons expanding more in 2020, though it may be a stretch.

Focus on privacy

Facebook focused on privacy – to an extent. Within these apps, rather than VR. While Facebook currently uses user data for Oculus Store recommendations, it is interesting that Mr Zuckerberg does not mention whether it is sold to third-party companies.

Their focus on apps makes sense, considering it is the major source of their income. Facebook is primarily an advertising company, and their technology will all be geared to their purpose. While VR and AR are part of their vision of the next computing platform, their short-term goals have never been clearer.

In any case, the Facebook Q4 2019 earnings call gave a soft hint at the future. While still unclear, we should expect a lot more announcements over the next few months as Oculus Connect arrives again.


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Tom Ffiske

Editor, Virtual Perceptions

Tom Ffiske specialises in writing about VR, AR, and MR across the immersive reality industry. Tom is based in London. 

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