Published on August 25th, 2021 | by Emergent Enterprise0
Facebook Finally Made a Good Virtual Reality App
Oftentimes companies move slowly and reluctantly when considering new technologies mostly because they are resistant to change. The pandemic changed that. With employees working remotely, businesses were forced into adopting solutions like Zoom so they could continue collaborating and interacting. Now, with rampant “Zoom fatigue” throughout the globe, Facebook is releasing Horizon Workrooms, a metaverse-style social VR app that allows multiple users to meet in a virtual workspace as reported in this post by Lucas Matney at TechCrunch. The great potential of this is that coworkers can have a better sense of “togetherness” in a meeting other than looking at video thumbnails of faces. Certainly Horizon Workrooms is not the first virtual meeting place but with the power and money of Facebook behind it things are looking good on the horizon.
Photo Credit: Facebook
Facebook’s journey toward making virtual reality a thing has been long and circuitous, but despite mixed success in finding a wide audience for VR, they have managed to build some very nice hardware along the way. What’s fairly ironic is that while Facebook has managed to succeed in finessing the hardware and operating system of its Oculus devices — things it had never done before — over the years it has struggled most with actually making a good app for VR.
The company has released a number of social VR apps over the years, and while each of them managed to do something right, none of them did anything quite well enough to stave off a shutdown. Setting aside the fact that most VR users don’t have a ton of other friends that also own VR headsets, the broadest issue plaguing these social apps was that they never really gave users a great reason to use them. While watching 360-degree videos or playing board games with friends were interesting gimmicks, it’s taken the company an awful lot of time to understand that a dedicated ”social” app doesn’t make much sense in VR and that users haven’t been looking for a standalone social app, so much as they’ve been looking for engaging experiences that were improved by social dynamics.
This all brings me to what Facebook showed me a demo of this week — a workplace app called Horizon Workrooms, which is launching in open beta for Quest 2 users starting today.
The app seems to be geared toward providing work-from-home employees a virtual reality sphere to collaborate inside. Users can link their Mac or PC to Workrooms and livestream their desktop to the app while the Quest 2’s passthrough cameras allow users to type on their physical keyboard. Users can chat with one another as avatars and share photos and files or draw on a virtual whiteboard. It’s an app that would have made a more significant splash for the Quest 2 platform had it launched earlier in the pandemic, though it’s tackling an issue that still looms large among tech-savvy offices — finding tech solutions to aid meaningful collaboration in a remote environment.
Horizon Workrooms isn’t a social app per se but the way it approaches social communication in VR is more thoughtful than any other first-party social VR app that Facebook has shipped. The spatial elements are less overt and gimmicky than most VR apps and simply add to an already great functional experience that, at times, felt more productive and engaging than a normal video call.