Why Google should have bought Oculus Rift

on July 2, 2014

After I saw the Oculus Rift at a CES, I jokingly told a friend they would probably be bought by Google or Facebook for billions. This was not a prediction but a real joke in my mind since I thought of Occulus Rift’s VR goggles being only good for gaming and not much more. Sure, virtual reality goggles were cool, but software had to be written specifically for it. As far as I was concerned, it would be a niche product. The suggestion of Google or Facebook buying them was driven by the fact they have huge checkbooks and money to burn. Oculus would be as good a purchase as any.

Recently, Facebook bought Occulus Rift for $2 billion and it became clear Facebook saw this as more than a gaming product. Indeed, for them to pay $2 billion for this suggests they see its role expanding to social networks and bought it for some strategic reason most of us can’t comprehend at this time. The logical reason would be they have an idea about how to make VR a key part of Facebook. Perhaps they see it as a way to deliver personalized video communications where Facebook friends put on the Oculus Rift goggles at their locations and, through Facebook, see and talk to each other as if they are in the same place. Imagine being with a friend on a VR beach in Hawaii and have the experience as if you were both lounging on beach chairs sipping Mai Tais.

Or you could be with friends walking around the grounds of the Eiffel Tower or walking through the Louvre as if you were there. If that is what Facebook has in mind it could dramatically change how social media is used and could be worth more than $2 billion to Facebook in the long run.

However, I think the better strategic acquirer would have been Google. A few months back I was at the TED conference in Vancouver, BC and heard former NFL kicker Chris Kluwe give a talk about how Google Glass could be used to bring sports fan into the action on the field as if they were seeing it from the player’s viewpoint. He showed a video where he put on Glass and recorded himself on the field being tackled by a defensive lineman. You saw what he saw and heard at the point of impact. Kluwe pointed out that fans wish they were the quarterback on the field and imagined themselves in that role. Now, put Google Glass on the quarterback and inject that into a VR world of Oculus that would have images of the entire stadium, the broad view of the field from multiple angles and more importantly, allow the viewers to see a wide angle view of the defensive positioning as both teams line up for the next play. Intermixing gaming and a real world Glass viewpoint could change how people view sports forever. This concept could be applied to just about any professional sport played today.

You could apply the marriage of Google Glass and Oculus Rift’s VR to all types of life experiences. Imagine seeing and experiencing life in the Space Station from the eyes of the astronauts working in space today. Even if you are not a certified diver, you could explore the Great Barrier Reefs or explore as if you were there a shipwreck like the Titanic. How about the world of entertainment? What would it be like to have the option to view the movie through the eyes of Leanardo DiCarpio or Cameron Diaz? Or what about using this in the medical arena? Perhaps a surgeon could use this to do even more precise robotic surgery over the Internet.

I recently wrote in a column for PCMag about the impact POV cameras have had on things like sports, with first responders and in business situations where first person recording is important. But, if you bring Google Glass and Oculus RIFT-like VR together, this POV concept gets kicked up hundreds of notches over current POV cameras.

My big concern about Facebook buying Oculus Rift is their focus would clearly be on the social aspect. I fear Oculus could not reach its real world-changing potential under Facebook. Sure, Facebook could do their own Glass product and try to marry them with Oculus Rift. But Facebook’s approach would be for their own interests and probably be proprietary to boot. On the other hand, Google’s approach to something like this would be open source in nature and, if done properly, could revolutionize the sports industry and change not only the gaming market but bring new dimensions to all types of apps and real world circumstances. The recent introduction of their cardboard 3D googles suggest they at least have this on their radar to some degree.

Google, not Facebook, should have bought Oculus Rift. Let’s hope Google is either searching for a similar start up or will do their own version of this product. This idea is powerful and in the right hands could have quite an impact on a lot of people and industries.