Facebook's annual F8 developer conference, attended by more than 3,000 app developers, isn't really annual at all, having failed to make an appearance in 2013, 2012 and 2009. However, this certainly hasn't lessened the excitement surrounding the event and this year anticipation, particularly surrounding plans for Oculus Rift, was palpable – even as the European Commission warned the EU that they should close their Facebook accounts to avoid being spied on by US security services, and the UK's BladeRoom Group filed a lawsuit with the social networking giant for theft of intellectual property.
CTO Mike Schroepfer certainly wasn't distracted by events outside of F8, announcing on day two of the conference that Facebook was "here to talk about the future", setting the tone for the most notable announcements, including where Rift fits into the social network. Facebook's core priorities appear to revolve around Oculus Rift, drones and AI, all intended to make Facebook more 'lifelike' and 'useful'.
The $2 billion (around £1.3 billion, AU$2.6 billion) purchase of Oculus Rift a year ago prompted a lot of head scratching at the time, although the world's collective scalps were soothed by Mark Zuckerberg's explanation at the time that he saw Rift as a "new communication platform" and a "platform for many other experiences," and not merely a fillip to gaming companies.
"By feeling truly present, you can share unbounded spaces and experiences with the people in your life," he went on. "Imagine enjoying a courtside seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face."
A year on and, even without an F8 two-dayer, we're all pretty clued up to roughly where Zuckerberg sees Rift fitting in o the new Facebook 'family' – a new means of communication through the social media platform; a future where the internet will rely heavily on virtual and augmented reality tech and applications. F8 provided the Facebook team an opportunity to paint a more vivid picture of where they see things going with Oculus Rift: opportunities to connect the world over as if all are in the same room together.
But there's a way to go yet. As Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer explained: "After thousands of demos we know we are just on the cusp, just getting there to get that sense of presence where for a moment your conscious brain is overruled by the subconscious that says, 'You are not where you think you are'." And Facebook couldn't (or wouldn't) give a timeframe on when Oculus Rift headsets will be available, so it's very much a case of watch this (head) space.
However, the newly announced spherical video gives everyone a taste – a "first step" – of what Oculus Rift will be able to do, once it's launched properly as part of the Facebook family. Spherical video is set to allow Facebook users to interact with immersive, 360-degree videos in their Facebook News Feeds, following YouTube's lead. The videos are shot with 24 cameras, all working in concert, allowing viewers to "move around inside" the video and view from a variety of angles. Soon, said Zuckerberg, "you're going to be able to put on your Oculus headset and view spherical videos there too."
And Rift is only one member of this new Facebook family. As Zuckerberg explained: "Facebook used to be this single blue app and it did a lot of different things, now Facebook is a family of apps. Moving from being a single service to a family of apps is the biggest shift we've made in our strategy in helping connect people."