Leaks in advance of Facebook Connect, particularly around the time that VIVE Flow was announced, had many anticipating new devices from Oculus. However, most of Mark Zuckerberg’s keynote consisted of pontificating on what the metaverse is, what it might look like, and how far away it is.
There were announcements, mainly involving hardware and new titles and game updates in the coming year, and a new headset was announced though it won’t be here until next year at the earliest. Oh, and the Facebook company is now called Meta.
A Personal Introduction From Zuckerberg
Connect 2021, which took place yesterday, October 28, started with a sort of pre-keynote introduction from Zuckerberg. The much speculated upon, leaked “Facebook Papers” are in select circulation and Facebook has again been in front of senate hearings. This is not a time of great public opinion for the company and Zuckerberg knows it. But, now is a time to move forward.
“With all the scrutiny and public debate, some of you may be wondering why we’re doing this right now,” said Zuckerberg. “We live for what we’re building and, while we make mistakes, we’re always learning and building and moving forward.”
That Zuckerberg and his team have learned a lot in the last few years would be a thread throughout Zuckerberg’s keynote and at times he did sound reconciliatory. He also more than suggested at a couple of points that Facebook logins would no longer be required for Oculus headsets in the near future.
Horizon Updates and an Interoperability API
Much of the keynote involved Zuckerberg explaining what the metaverse means to him. A lot of these sentiments are sentiments that most viewers of the live stream and indeed readers of this publication don’t likely need to read again. However, during the early keynote, Zuckerberg did drop some announcements in an almost incidental fashion.
“In order to unlock the potential of the metaverse, there needs to be interoperability,” Zuckerberg said, followed by the casual statement that the company is developing an API for connecting virtual worlds through portals that work like spatialized hyperlinks.
Zuckerberg also spoke about Horizon Home, the landing and launching pad of the Horizon, the virtual world currently in beta. In the near future, everyone will be able to create and personalize their own Horizon Home, which will also be the landing and launch pad of their Oculus device itself. There will also be a social version of the Horizon Home for virtually visiting with friends.
Also announced was Horizon Worlds, virtual environments that can be built and shared by users. There will also be a Horizon Marketplace where users can make and sell virtual goods for their avatars and Horizon Homes.
“We started rolling out Horizon Worlds in beta and we’re adding more people and more worlds every day,” said Zuckerberg.
Horizon Rooms, the recently announced enterprise collaboration tool, is also getting updates, including greater room customization tools, 2D progressive web apps, and the ability to include office space in the Horizon Home.
While social platforms are being built, the focus remains on games. As Zuckerberg said, “Gaming is how a lot of people are going to step into the metaverse for the first time.” – and gaming announcements there were:
- Oculus is working with Vertigo Games on five new titles;
- Seasonal events and content are coming to Population: One;
- Blade and Sorcery: Nomad is coming to Quest later this year;
- Supernatural has added boxing;
- New fitness accessories are coming out for Quest;
- Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is coming to VR, for better or worse.
The “Presence Platform” Developer Tools
A session with Vice President of AR/VR Andrew “Boz” Bosworth saw the announcement of the “Presence Platform”, a suite of tools to help developers create mixed reality applications. The platform is set to include software for:
- Environmental understanding;
- Standardized gesture controls through a hand interaction SDK;
- Voice commands.
Sneak Peeks at Hardware
Connect did have a segment on hardware, including sneak peeks at “multiple new products,” though none of it will reach shelves this year.
Leaked images of headsets that had analysts and enthusiasts predicting a “Quest Pro” turned out to be images of a future headset currently labeled “Project Cambria.” The headset will be compatible with Quest’s software ecosystem but will not be a part of the Quest product line. Potentially shipping next year, the headset promises:
- More expressive avatars enabled through the more robust sensor and tracking systems;
- AR/VR passthrough;
- “Pancake optics” for thinner lenses.
The segment also showcased experimental data for EMG (electromyography) input, a proposed method of input that detects nerve activation in the muscles potentially allowing users of the future technology to do things like type without a keyboard.
Zuckerberg also gave a short tease of the “Project Nazare”, the company’s “first full augmented reality glasses”, which are “still a few years out.”
The Facebook Company Is Now “Meta”
In a final segment, also much anticipated in the days leading up to the event, Zuckerberg announced that the Facebook company is changing its name.
“The metaverse is the next chapter for the internet, and it’s the next chapter for our company too,” said Zuckerberg. “I’ve been thinking a lot about our identity as we build that next chapter.”
To reflect this stance, and the position that the company is “metaverse-first, not Facebook-first”, the company’s new name is “Meta.” To be clear, Facebook, the social media platform, is still “Facebook.” The Facebook app, as referred to by the company, has been one of many services owned and operated by “The Facebook company” just like “Snapchat” is an app owned and operated by “Snap Inc.”
This was some of the most anticipated news going into Connect, but it doesn’t change a lot for most of us. Something similar happened with Oculus becoming part of Facebook Reality Labs and the still-in-development cryptocurrency Diem – formerly “Libra.”
Not a Bad Connect, Really
There was a lot of hype around Connect this year and, if we look at Connect in the context of that hype, it was kind of a bummer. But if we think about what was actually announced, removed from all of the anticipation, we got a sneak peek at some cool hardware coming down the road and we got a lot of new game announcements.
It’s going to be a lot of mental gymnastics in terms of rebranding what’s Facebook and what’s Oculus and what’s Meta, but as far as content goes, it wasn’t a bad event.