unveiled a private-beta version of virtual-reality video conferencing software Thursday called Horizon Workrooms, which aims to make the experience of meeting remotely with colleagues closer to the real thing.
At first glance, it’s still got some distance to travel on that front. But the metaverse wasn’t built in a day.
That’s where Workrooms fits into chief executive Mark Zuckerberg’s larger plan to transform the company into a metaverse business from its social networking roots. The metaverse is similar to how we experience the mobile internet, except that instead of connecting to it, we will more or less be inside of it.
The idea, while buzzy at the moment, has gained traction this year–Barron’s wrote a column for the Aug. 16 issue. Other tech leaders such as Microsoft’s (MSFT) Satya Nadella have made reference to it in earnings calls. Videogame companies such as Roblox (RBLX), and
(U), which makes developer tools, are embracing it too.
Facebook’s first public version Workrooms isn’t the metaverse, and it isn’t trying to be. But the technology that makes Workrooms possible, including the hardware component, the Quest 2, are essentially steps along the way to what the metaverse might ultimately look like.
Though, nobody knows for sure–including proponents such as Zuckerberg–exactly what the metaverse will look like. The company’s VR efforts feed into its augmented reality plans, which in turn, executives have said, are important to powering whatever future the metaverse ends up existing in.
Workrooms sounds like it has some neat features, such as allowing groups to gather in a virtual space, that includes realistic sounding audio, and the ability to use hands to make gestures, a feature that takes advantage of Quest 2’s excellent hardware. It’s also usable from a regular computer without Facebook’s virtual-reality hardware.
Early reports from the tech press are mixed. Facebook did say it was a beta version, which suggests the company knows it isn’t completely there yet. But, it also appears to be ready for actual use, supporting up to 16 people in VR, with another 34 people able to connect via video. The company has reportedly been using the system internally for meetings for about six months.
It’s unlikely that Workrooms is going to start contributing to Facebook’s health profit, or supplant the ads business anytime soon. But for investors looking to get a taste of how Zuckerberg sees the future, Workrooms is a good place to start nibbling.
Shares of Facebook ticked up 0.6% to $357.49 in afternoon trading. Facebook shares have gained 31% this year, as the S&P 500 index advanced 18%.
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