The spring of this year was a busy time for Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) CEO Mark Zuckerberg and team. There were what seemed at the time to be an onslaught of acquisitions: Facebook dropped a whopping $19 billion in February for mobile messaging king WhatsApp. The following month, though on a much smaller scale, Facebook wrote a $20 million check for U.K.-based solar-powered drone maker Ascenta to further Zuckerberg's Internet.org initiative to bring the Internet to the world.
Both the WhatsApp and Ascenta acquisitions provide Facebook with some intriguing, long-term monetization possibilities, but the icing on the cake was its $2 billion deal for Oculus, maker of the highly regarded Rift virtual reality, or VR, headset. Still in the development stages, Rift brings with it a world of opportunity in the rapidly growing gaming industry. And Zuckerberg doesn't intend to stop at gaming; he envisions Rift impacting a slew of industries, from healthcare to construction. And based on some new information, bringing Rift to the masses, and the revenues that come along with it, may be here sooner, rather than later.
One giant step for Rift
The first version of Rift's headsets were made available to developers around March 2013. Its Developer Kit 1.0 iteration was Oculus' introduction of Rift, not to the general public, but it was enough to stir up some significant excitement. The gaming community in particular immediately saw the implications, and Developer Kit 1.0 was off and running.
A year after its introduction, in March 2014, Oculus introduced developers to its v2 Developer Kit, dubbed "Crystal Cove." It was widely hailed as a big step forward, and included slick features like enhanced resolution, an external camera, and a light emitting diode, or LED, to track a user's position. Rift's updated Developer Kit also had improved immersion technology, giving users an even better VR experience.
Now, here we are about six months after Developer Kit v2 was introduced, and Oculus has unveiled yet another updated Rift headset, and by most accounts this one is head and shoulders above earlier versions. In addition to a more solidly built VR headset, Oculus' new "Crescent Bay" Rift has integrated headphones, 360 degree depth, meaning it's even more immersive, and is able to "trick" your mind into believing the user has actually stepped into a virtual reality universe. Gamers, it's safe to say, are going to be in VR heaven.
With the backing of Facebook, Oculus has put its pedal to the metal in preparing Rift for the masses. That's great news for users, but also means Facebook is that much closer to getting a return on its $2 billion investment. And the timing couldn't better for Facebook's Oculus, not only in terms of monetizing its asset, but ensuring it's one of the first players in the VR game. As with most any new technology, Oculus isn't the only VR headset on the block.
Rift has some company
As noted in an article earlier this month, Oculus helped smartphone king Samsung (NASDAQOTH: SSNLF) with the development of its recently introduced Gear VR headset. The Gear VR is designed to work with Samsung's latest mobile device, its new Galaxy Note 4 phablet. Users actually slide their new Note 4 into the Gear to enter their virtual reality world. Rift, at least at this point, is a strictly desktop solution, so Samsung's foray isn't a direct competitor, yet.
There's some urgency for Facebook to make Rift readily available to the gaming public, and one reason is Japan-based electronics giant Sony (NYSE:SNE). Several weeks ago Sony took the wraps off its Project Morpheus VR headset, designed to work with its wildly popular PlayStation consoles. And according to the rumor mill, Sony may beat Rift to market, even though it got a later start.
Though the Morpheus headset is for Sony's gaming consoles only right now, that's likely because it was the quickest means of getting its VR solution into the hands of consumers. It wouldn't be surprising to see a Sony desktop, and perhaps even mobile, VR headset released soon after Morpheus becomes available. Being first in any market is certainly no guarantee of success, but it doesn't hurt, either.
Final Foolish thoughts
As with most things Facebook does, getting something done right is more important than getting it done first, and it's safe to say that applies to the Rift VR headset, too. At the same time, as demonstrated by the significant strides made with Rift's Crescent Bay iteration, getting it right doesn't have to mean taking it slow. Crescent Bay is a big step in the right direction in monetizing Oculus, and couldn't come at a better time because the VR clock is ticking.