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Oculus To Meta: 10 Years Of Mark Zuckerberg's Quest For VR

Oculus To Meta: 10 Years Of Mark Zuckerberg's Quest For VR

On March 25, 2014 the world learned Mark Zuckerberg purchased Oculus VR for over $2 billion.

Kids who weren't born when he made that decision can now wear, with parental controls, a $500 wireless all-in-one headset with markerless inside-out tracking, precise 6DoF controllers, hand tracking, and mixed reality.

A lot has happened in the decade to get us here.

From Oculus founder Palmer Luckey hand-delivering a Rift in Alaska in 2016 to his unceremonious dismissal a year later, Oculus inside Facebook faced a series of leadership changes (Hugo Barra), strategy shifts (Facebook accounts required), and accelerated hiring sprees. Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe, for example, tried and failed to ship better PC VR headsets than the Rift as standalone VR became Zuckerberg's focused strategy.

As Oculus disappeared, eventually taking the name Reality Labs, the effort to build VR and AR products grew into a whole division inside Facebook as Quests started shipping in the millions. Eventually, Mark Zuckerberg started giving a range of interviews where he made sure to repeat the word "metaverse" ahead of his big rebrand to Meta.

Facebook had around 10,000 employees when it acquired Oculus in 2014. By the time Zuckerberg changed the name to Meta in 2021, headcount was rocketing toward 80,000, only to be followed immediately by massive layoffs and more reorganization.

Before all that happened in the wake of the acquisition, on March 27, 2014 as a technology reporter for the Orange County Register, I put the following questions on the front page of the local newspaper where Oculus was headquartered:

There was enough information at the time to try to answer the first two or three questions. Palmer Luckey and Brendan Iribe got rich and, yes, Oculus alienated a lot of supporters with its sale, but the move also sparked a wave of investment in VR the likes of which had never been seen before. Zuckerberg's WhatsApp and Instagram acquisitions made a case for genius, but his awkward public image made a case for loony after Jessie Eisenberg's depiction of him in 2010's The Social Network.

In the years since, Meta has undercut competition on pricing at every turn, aggressively swiped up creative development studios, and sold tens of millions of VR headsets. That's a lot to add to the empire-building genius column of evidence, but there's also that 2019 article about Twitter's CEO interacting with Zuckerberg which included an anecdote about the billionaire stunning his goats.

On the question of medical care via VR, Osso is one of VR's biggest startups pursuing medical care in connection with VR headsets. And if you visit the eye doctor to test your eyes, there's a chance they could put you in a VR headset during the examination.

So that answer is a big yes.

Is VR Science Fiction Or The Next iPhone?

VR is certainly not science fiction, but whether it is the next iPhone is still in active contention a decade after Mark Zuckerberg's purchase of Oculus. I will offer my own anecdote to this answer, however, after 10 years of reporting on this technology full-time.

I was on my way home from work driving along the 91 freeway in California on March 25, 2014, one of the worst commutes in the world, when my editor called me to tell me that Zuckerberg's acquisition had just crossed the wires.

"Now a lot of people have ideas on how to make transportation better," Zuckerberg told VR developers a few years later. "Self-driving cars, hyperloops, and don’t get me wrong I love all of that stuff, but it’s 2017 and the biggest trend in transportation is that its a lot easier to move bits around than atoms.”

Zuckerberg made his Oculus purchase in 2014 and that comment about transportation in 2017. It is 2024 now, and Apple just did two things to make Zuckerberg's case for empire-building genius much stronger.

Apple built a virtually limitless cash hoard drawn from the sale of iPhones. It has enough money to put thousands of people on any project for a decade or more as they work out every aspect of its technology development. Despite those resources, Apple cancelled its car project.

And, almost in parallel, Tim Cook shipped the VR headset.

I parted with my own car too this year to help fund the purchase of a VR headset that's more expensive than any personal computer I've ever owned. And while it is Apple's headset that costs that much and drove me to move on from car culture, it is Zuckerberg's observation that describes why I did it.

Yes, it is easier to move around bits than atoms, and VR means you never have to sit in traffic again.

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