Not going back to the office? Facebook has an app for that.
There is no end to the vision of Covid-19, as most of us may have been working at home even longer than we first thought.
Facebook took advantage of that with the release of new virtual reality office meeting software, the Horizon Workroom. The idea is that you can communicate with your colleagues remotely in a simulated, 3D conference room, complete with cartoon avatars, “spatial sound,” and hand -held tracking. Think of it like Zooming on steroids. For now, the software is free to use, and anyone can join by dialing a video call – but to get the full experience, you’ll need one of Facebook’s Oculus 2 headsets. Facebook says the Oculus -powered version of the Workroom has been in use for the most part within the company for the past six months.
“Workrooms are our core collaboration experience that allows people to come together to work in the same virtual room, regardless of physical distance,” the company said in a statement announcing the launch.
The new product is another sign that Facebook is investing heavily in the “metaverse” full of VR- and AR, described by CEO Mark Zuckerberg as an “internet space” where people communicate through in digital representation of themselves. Facebook recently created an executive team to complete the metaverse, and last March, nearly a fifth of the company was working on AR or VR, according to Information.
Zuckerberg – along with many other tech leaders – sees AR and VR as the next frontier in computing, much like the mobile phone.
But so far, the technology has only really taken off among gamers. So it makes sense that the company is building a product that aims to make the technology more useful for a core audience. A Facebook spokesperson noted that Zuckerberg himself hosted the meetings using the Workroom.
Facebook isn’t the first company to come up with the idea of VR -powered office meetings. Spatial, where Recode’s Adam Clark Estes wrote about last year, offers many of the same features as Workroom, raises familiar questions about whether Facebook copied some of its competitors. And even if early adopters may have loved the idea of using the latest technology to make office meetings less cramped, it could be years before the average person uses VR for leisure, especially for work.
However, Workrooms are trying to be able to use an interesting new technology at the right time. Many office workers are fired after a year and a half of working from home and for returning to a more normal office setting – or the next worst thing.
How Workrooms Work
If you’re in a Horizon Workroom meeting, the idea is that it should feel almost like you’re in actually the same physical space as the other people inside.
Recode has not yet tested the product, but in line with what we know from Facebook video demos and product descriptions, participants should experience a kind of “mixed reality,” combining aspects of virtual world with real – for example, you can still type on your real computer keyboard and register that in the simulated meeting room. If you’re already in an indoor meeting, you can do all the things you would do in a regular videoconferencing, but there are a few improvements. For example, you can collaborate on a virtual whiteboard, which you can write on using hand gestures (tracked by the Oculus headset) or an Oculus hand Controller.
Everything is supposed to feel more like the real world than a traditional videoconferencing. You can project your notes on a board in front of the virtual room, and using a technology called “spatial sound,” you’ll hear people better when you tilt your head at them.
While there is a lot of promise for Facebook workroom apps, there are also significant hurdles.
Facebook’s biggest hurdle in the Workroom is a simple logistic: Most people don’t have an Oculus Quest 2 headset. The $ 300 hardware cost will undoubtedly be a hurdle for many potential users. access the full experience.
Aside from that, there are also potentially major privacy concerns about people providing additional data on Facebook. Facebook says it won’t use conversations in the Workroom to advertise Facebook ads, and the technology will only process images around your home locally. But because of the company’s controversial record of protecting user privacy, it can be hard to convince people to let Facebook into their lives beyond what they’ve come to.
Facebook has also struggled so far to get people to invest in metaverse ready products. Spaces, which was previously the company’s experiment in a virtual environment, learned social conversations, but it never stopped and now it doesn’t. However, Facebook has seen some success with its messaging app for work, Workplace Messenger. And virtual reality technology has become more and more accessible than ever before, with the price of headsets dropping from a price point of a few thousand dollars to a few hundred.
Facebook’s Workroom app is a fundamental step in the company’s popular “metaverse” vision. And whether or not people want to join the new world, the CEO of Facebook is excited about it.