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Is Virtual Reality the Future of Technology?

By Daniel James – Mar 31, 2014 at 9:30AM

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After Google's initial foray into the space, Facebook and Sony are now entering the virtual/augmented reality market.

It seems as if there is a new type of technology set to dominate the future of consumer technology -- and many very large tech companies seem to be getting in on it. Google (GOOGL -0.39%) first made waves with its development of Google Glass, a type of eyewear meant to provide "augmented reality." Now, Facebook (META 1.12%) and Sony (SONY 2.20%) have both announced virtual reality goggle developments of their own, with Facebook having recently acquired a virtual reality headset maker and Sony touting the development of its Morpheus VR headset. Slowly, but surely, we may be turning into cyborgs.

The original: Google Glass
The first major tech company to come up with a semi-publicly released product in the space was Google. The initial pioneer in wearable tech turned quite a few heads when it announced the arrival of Google Glass last year. Currently restricted to a small user base due to its high price tag, initial reviews have been mixed.

Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The device is meant to be able to do anything a smartphone can do, largely controlled by voice commands and using a small screen placed just above one's eye. The wearable computer is Google's latest step toward its vision of "ubiquitous computing," a world in which computers and the Internet will be ever present and able to follow commands without physical interaction. Naturally, the device has faced a certain amount of backlash, as the idea of constantly wearing a camera and being in touch with the rest of the globe highlighted privacy concerns, among other issues.

Recently, the project made headlines again when Google announced a partnership with trendy eyewear firm Luxottica, which owns brands such as Ray-Ban and Oakley. Together, the firms will be developing a more fashionable Google Glass product. Presumably, the move is meant to address concerns among consumers that the glasses would look geeky, although wearing a computer on your face may remain in the domain of nerds and tech-savant trendsetters until the technology gains widespread acceptance. This widespread adoption may be accelerated by the entrance of two new players in the space, Sony and Facebook.

New entrants
Let's take a look at Sony's virtual reality offering first. The Japanese tech giant recently announced Project Morpheus, a virtual reality headset geared at gaming, which is meant to compete with the Oculus Rift headset. As such, it does not directly compete with Google Glass at the moment, but it does highlight the interest surrounding virtual or augmented reality goggles. While gamers seem fascinated by the possibilities of virtual reality gaming, some analysts have doubts on the viability of this technology, and suggest that Sony may be making a mistake in chasing the virtual reality market.

A far more serious threat to Google Glass is Facebook's recent acquisition of the previously mentioned gaming virtual reality headset maker Oculus for $2 billion. The acquisition was initially met with some confusion and skepticism, as Facebook is not primarily a gaming company. However, the long-term view now prevalent among analysts is that Facebook wants to take virtual reality technology far beyond gaming and into the realm of social networking.

Source: Wikimedia Commons.

As such, it appears as if Facebook is trying to come up with an answer to Google Glass. According to CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the company hopes to provide a new way to communicate and share experiences, essentially incorporating social technology into every aspect of our lives. Still, there are a number of important differences between Facebook's plans for a virtual reality world and Google's view of an augmented reality world.

According to a recent Forbes article, Google Glass seeks to take reality and improve upon it, while Facebook's plans seem to be more about removing reality altogether and replacing it with a more attractive fantasy world. As such, these new technological advances have fundamentally different ways of allowing one to interact with the world and are in theory not mutually exclusive.

The bottom line
With Google Glass not yet rolled out to the general public and Facebook's ambitions still in their infancy, it is too early to say just how big a role virtual or augmented reality will play in our lives. However, the fact that several very large tech companies are pouring money into developing this type of technology means at the very least that they see a great deal of potential in it. In other words, if Google and Facebook think it could work, it very well might be the case that in a few decades, we will be viewing the world from a very different perspective.


Daniel James has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Facebook and Google. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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