"We're not a hardware company"
Where Google is all about Glass as a product—look no further than its efforts to make Glass more stylish with designer partnerships—Zuckerberg thinks of Rift in terms of software and services.
"We're not a hardware company," Zuckerberg explained during a call last Tuesday with analysts and reporters. "We're not going to make a profit off the devices long-term."
Instead, Zuck imagines Rift as a physical extension of your social network, letting you visit places you've never been and feel like you're chatting with friends in person instead of on a screen.
"Gaming is a start," he said. "Once you start getting a network effect around people gaming, there are obvious communication cases. People will build a model of a place far away and you can go see it. It's like teleporting. There's a real breadth of interesting things we haven't seen on a platform before."
Own the future
Neither Glass nor Rift is a widely available product being marketed to consumers. You can't buy either at your local Best Buy. Glass is still in the hands of "Explorers" and developers, and so is Rift. Both are working out the kinks in anticipation of a wider commercial release either this year or next. But while Glass might be closer to the product Google envisions it will be, a wearable smartphone, Rift won't be the virtual social experience Zuckerberg is envisioning for several more years. Blau said the difficulty of creating a high-quality virtual reality experience for a single user has proved difficult enough, let alone building a multi-user world.
"I'm not convinced that virtual reality is inherently social," Blau said. "I think [Zuckerberg] wants to make it social, which is great, but in the 25 years that virtual reality has been popular, we haven't talked about it in that context."
Glass has faced plenty of criticism for its users' often annoying behavior, so much so that the company recently put out etiquette tips for Explorers. But Google is angling for (arguably) wide consumer appeal, where Rift is still being targeted toward hardcore gamers.
"The comparison is more about Facebook and Google both trying to capture a device that is not popular but has a lot of applicability for the future—both augmented reality and virtual reality have been media favorites for many years," Blau said. "In terms of where the technology marketplace is going, wearable devices are thought to be the next platform."
If there's any overlap between Rift and Glass, it's their makers' quest to predict and dominate the technology of tomorrow. Drones that connect the world to the Internet, self-driving cars, robots, face-computers: These companies want to do whatever it takes to not only guide our path to the future, but also to make sure that future is established, beautifully decorated, and as cozy and familiar as the present when we get there.
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