There has been all sorts of stories about this acquisition ranging from how Oculus has sold out the gamers to how the early Kickstarters who gave it money got screwed because they don’t get a cut of the selling price. Also stories about why Facebook bought Oculus as Virtual Reality (VR) is the future of the digital interface.
But one story I didn’t see is this which I think is relevant: Facebook has gone into the hardware business.
Oculus is a hardware device you put over your eyes, plus a software kit for developers. Facebook has previously purchased software companies, like the recent Whatsapp acquisition and, of course, Instagram.
But Facebook has never previously goie into the hardware space. There were rumors several years ago that Facebook would come out with its own Facebook phone. But the most Facebook did was come out with a software hack to make Android Phones have a Facebook home screen.
There was good reason for Facebook balking at going into the hardware space: Facebook could alienate the hardware platforms — iOS, Android, Windows and Kindle — that host its Facebook apps and services. Remember, when Microsoft, traditionally a software and services company came out with the Surface Tablets, Microsoft pissed off its hardware partners like HP and Dell.
Facebook recent purchase of Oculus puts it into direct hardware competition with other large players. Google already has Google Glasses, which is somewhat in the same space as Oculus as Glasses covers your eyes and gives you partially a virtual world. Apple has patents for over-the-eyes displays. Sony released the Morpheus virtual glasses recently.
Facebook purchasing Oculus sends a message to Apple, Google, Microsoft and others that Facebook is entering the hardware device business. This puts Facebook on a collision course with Apple, whose main revenue and business comes from selling devices. It also puts Facebook in more direct competition with Google as well as Amazon and Microsoft.
Apple, as it has with other nacent technologies, is sitting back and watching Google, Facebook (Oculus) and Sony dabble with VR through devices that cover your eyes. Apple will surely enter that business if VR takes off. What will Facebook then do? Will Facebook sell VR software on Apple’s VR device? Will Apple allow that as Facebook sells its own hardware? Will Google allow Facebook to install Facebook apps on Android. How about Microsoft and Amazon?
So this is an important angle in looking at Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus. Facebook is now in the hardware device business.
Over on Twitter, @KatieFloyd asked if anyone could get Siri to play podcasts as it seems at the CarPlay demonstrations the showed Siri playing podcasts through Siri voice commands. I tried it on my iPhone, and as the video I made shows, Siri tries to play the podcasts I ask for but Siri is looking for “the latest update” to Apple’s podcast app. So very likely there will be an update to the Podcasts app that allows Siri to trigger specific podcasts.
I don’t know about you but technology really excites me. What totally excites me is how quickly technology advances. One of the things that’s really exciting me lately is the iBeacon technology that Apple and other companies are now supporting. In fact I’m so excited about this technology that I went ahead and ordered some iBeacon stations, specifically the Bleu station devices. I sent away for a kit which will send me three of them. I can then also work with the SDK provided by the company, Twocanoes.
iBeacons work with Bluetooth 4.0 technology which pretty much exists in every new iOS device and I think also all new Macintoshes. Many Android devices also support Bluetooth 4.0 technology. Bluetooth 4.0 is a wireless technology which uses very low power and has a decent range from any device. It’s not like Wi-Fi as it is more for “near field” communications. iBeacon is better than a competing “near field” technology calleld NFC as Bluetooth 4.0 has a longer range than NFC. This means you need fewer iBeacon stations than NFC devices to cover a large space so the implementation of iBeacons is cheaper.
So why am I excited about getting this technology? I’m excited because this technology will allow companies and programs to map indoor space and provide all sorts of new technology in the indoor space. IBeacon will do for indoor space what GPS technology and Google maps does for outdoor space.
What are some of the problems that iBeacons could solve? Well for one they could help consumers and employees better navigate large indoor spaces. Here’s an example: I sometimes go to this gigantic Home Depot store near me. I’m looking for a specific thing, like a particular screwdriver or a particular type of nail. Home Depot could put 100 different iBeacon stations around the store that I go to which would track where I am and each device would also know the inventory in the section that is placed in.
So with these iBeacon devices a consumer like me could launch a Home Depot app on my iPhone, search for the particular screw and then the app would guide me through the geography of the store. The iBeacons and the corresponding app on my iPhone will give me instructions that I should take a left at an isle, a right at another and the finally take me to the specific spot where the nail exists.
Right now it drives me crazy that unless I find an employee at Home Depot and ask a lot of questions it takes me a long time to find the product and the spot where I’m looking for a particular product. When stores like Home Depot start mapping their stores with iIBeacon stations it’ll make it really easy for consumers to find specific products and navigate large stores.
Large companies could also use these devices to help map the indoor space of the offices. This would be useful because a lot of employees who work at large companies have difficulty finding people or offices on other floors that they’re not familiar with. With iBeacon devices, an employee could travel to another floor and then have a map that would guide them to a particular office or educate them as to what or who exists in the various parts they are walking through. Employees visiting offices in other cities could use an app to navigate and find there way around an unfamiliar building.
Museums could also use this technology.
I was recently touring various museums in Spain with my family. At all the museums you have to pay additional money for these devices that would play audio as you walk through and looked at various art work. Some of the museums even had apps that you could download and then hear the audio through the apps. But this current technology has a major limitation. The limitation is that the stand-alone devices or the apps don’t know where you are in the museum so you have to keep track of where you are and make sure you use in the right part of the app for the device to listen to the right audio. With iBeacon technology in museums the museum would know where you are in the museum and the museum app would be able to automatically trigger the audio that corresponds to the particular artwork as you’re walking by or approaching each piece of artwork.
iBeacons could also be used to create indoor interactive games in various spaces. For example you could have a space with multiple rooms and then you could have the game on a smart phone works so that you have to travel to various rooms and the rooms would then interact with you because the iBeacons would know you were there and send a signal. So the possibilities for gaming are huge.
Like with any new technology, the implementation of iBeacon technology could be misused and could annoy or abuse consumers and employees. For example stores could spam you with unwanted advertisements as you walk through a store. Similarly employers could track employees and determine where they are in the company’s offices. Companies could use that information to punish employees for goofing off on the job because they weren’t in their section of the office.
But in the end I think the benefits of iBeacon technology will greatly outweigh the detriments of this in-building tracking and communication technology.