Facebook buys virtual reality company. Has Zuckerberg gone mad?

Mark Zuckerberg has spent $2bn on a company that makes virtual reality goggles. Crazy or brave? We're not sure.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 28 May 2015

We thought people looked stupid wearing a Google Glass. Check out Facebook’s new acquisition:

You can smile as much as you want, love. You still look like a cyclops

Yep: Facebook has just bet $2bn (£1.2bn) that in the next few years, people will be happy to strap big black boxes to their faces. Mark Zuckerberg announced the acquisition of Oculus VR, 'the leader in virtual reality technology', on Tuesday night.

To be fair, in his announcement on Facebook (where else?), Zuckerberg painted an exciting picture of the future of the internet:

'When you put [the Oculus Rift headset] on, you enter a completely immersive computer-generated environment… you feel like you're actually present in another place with other people.

'After games, we're going to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences. 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 -- just by putting on goggles in your home.'

It’s Facebook’s first foray into the world of hardware (the ill-fated Facebook phone notwithstanding), and it’s a bold one at that. Clearly, Zuckerberg is betting on this being the next big thing: Oculus is a 'strong candidate to emerge as the next social and communications platform', he says. And compared with his $19bn acquisition of WhatsApp, Oculus is a steal.

You can see why he’s done it: after Google bought internet of things company Nest and Apple started negotiating with Comcast about building its own TV service, the onus was on Facebook to make its big statement about how it will shape the future of the internet. The only thing that seems to be for sure is that we definitely won’t be browsing the web on a computer screen.

There is, of course, a question over whether Zuckerberg has gone mad with power and is investing shareholders’ cash (or, in this case, $400m of shareholders’ and $1.6bn of Facebook shares) in crazy futuristic technologies that will never get off the ground, or whether he’s made a canny call on the future of the internet. His $19bn acquisition of WhatsApp caused some investors to shift uncomfortably in their seats. Unless Oculus proves itself as a wise acquisition fairly rapidly, Zuckerberg may have difficult questions to answer.

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