I have been a very satisfied user of the first generation Oculus Quest for the past year or so.
So, when I heard that Facebook would be announcing the Oculus Quest 2 at their Facebook Connect event, I wanted to watch — that was a bit of a busy week what with Apple announcing their new iPads and watches the previous day and so on.
I’m glad that I watched the event.
The Oculus Quest 2 looks good. It’s (slightly) less heavy, has a much higher resolution display, is much more powerful in terms of processing power and to top it all, is $100 cheaper than the previous model. So I was definitely interested in getting it.
But what really interested me was the rest of the keynote where folks from Facebook laid out their future plans for Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR).
Now, I enjoy playing games on the Oculus very much. But what I really would have liked to see on the original Oculus was more personal productivity functionality and shared entertainment — for example, being able to watch a movie on a big screen not just by myself, but with my wife, sitting beside me and watching the movie with me on her own Oculus headset.
Sure, you can sort of do that already by using an app like Big Screen VR and watching a movie that somebody else is streaming. However, as far as I am aware, you can only do public rooms in Big Screen VR at the moment and you can’t stream your own movies if you are on macOS.
I should add the disclaimer that it’s been a few months since I last tried Big Screen VR and that these might be possible now on Big Screen VR or on another app— I don’t know. But when I last tested things, that was the state of affairs.
Similarly, I would have liked to have used the Quest as a big monitor — or several monitors — while I worked on my mac. Again, there are several solutions for Windows, and one solution at least for macOS — ImmersedVR. However, the solutions aren’t (or at least for me, they weren’t) very practical.
For example, when I tried ImmersedVR, I could have huge virtual monitors, but I had to type on my physical keyboard without being able to see the keyboard. While I can touch type, I still find the experience more disconcerting when I have to type without seeing the keyboard at all. It just seems to work less well when I try to type in VR.
ImmersedVR does provide an on-screen keyboard (if I recall correctly) but you have to hunt and peck using your controllers and that really wasn’t a good experience if you are trying to code an iOS app in VR 😬
So, when Facebook talked about Oculus for Business, Infinite Office and supporting virtual keyboards on the Quest, I got really excited about the possibilities. Perhaps the Quest can be more than a gaming and entertainment device? Would it make a more immersive, workhorse device for everyday computing?
Of course, what I’d like to see is that instead of a virtual representation of your computer desktop being an app which takes up the whole view on your Quest, for the Quest display/view to be the entire app where the virtual desktop is just a component.
Confused? Think of the new iOS 14 home screen where you can have multiple widgets (or Android where you’ve had that same functionality for ages…). I’m thinking something similar to that, but with each widget being a complete app that you can interact with.
For example, you can have one window where you have access to your desktop machine where you could be developing a new app, or reading an article on a site, or writing a report. At the same time, you can have other windows/components around you in 3D space that:
- Play your favourite music videos, or show you the latest news.
- Show you real-time stock updates for your favourite stocks.
- Lets you monitor your baby who is sleeping in the next room (or even half-way across the city).
- Pops up alerts (and a video) when somebody rings your front doorbell and shows you who is at the door without you having to take your headset off and attend to things.
- Shows you the latest weather conditions outside and a daily forecast.
- Shows you (actual) windows showing you an outside view which doesn’t have to be what is outside your own window — it could be a view from a mountaintop, or beside a babbling brook in a sunny forest glade.
- Displays whiteboards where you can doodle collaboratively with your co-workers. And unlike normal whiteboards, it actually keeps a history of all that has been written/drawn over time.
- Displays a huge board with tasks and their progress so that you can quickly know where you are on the current project.
The above are just a few ideas that occurred to me as I tried to visualize what my VR workspace might look like. But honestly, the possibilities are endless. And if such an environment were to be created — for the Oculus, or some other VR platform — I believe that there might be a big market for developing VR business applications for that platform.
Of course, somebody might argue that the scenarios that I outlined above already exist, or are at least possible, on an AR platform. So why VR?
For me, when it comes to work, the concept of AR seems a little distracting. If I can see the real world around me— and this is totally personal and this might not affect you at all — I want to know what is going on. I want to know what somebody is doing, saying etc. This can distract me from getting my work done, especially if I’m trying to work in a crowded area like a coffee shop, or a train.
But on the other hand, if I’m in a totally virtual environment where everything I see is controlled by me, I believe I can work without my mind drifting 😀 Even if I’m in a totally crowded space, I’d be in my own bubble and working away, totally oblivious to what is going on around me.
Of course, given that I have not tested such an environment, this might all be a pipe dream. But I do like this dream and hope it becomes a reality.
Given what Facebook revealed at Facebook Connect, it sounds as if Facebook is well on the way to getting at least partway there. And while a lot of people appear to be waiting for Apple to come up with their own AR / MR (Mixed Reality)/XR (Extended Reality) / VR product(s), the fact of the matter is that Apple hasn’t even announced that they are working on something like that. Sure, there are hints, but Apple is being secretive as usual.
On the other hand, Facebook has actually laid out their plans for the future for all to know, and have indicated where they are headed. So, for the moment at least, I’m betting on Facebook to get me where I want to be 😃