The latest news out of Facebook is that hundreds of employees are being moved, as part of a ‘behind closed doors’ restructuring. These individuals are being shifted from a broad augmented reality division, which is part of Facebook’s Reality Labs, to one that focuses on AR glasses as a product.
AR glasses have seen a couple of false horizons, with Google Glass and Snap’s Spectacles never really taking off. It may seem odd then, that Facebook is keen to invest so much resource into a product that in previous iterations has seemed socially awkward and physically cumbersome.
To put this move into context, you have to view Facebook as a technology company, rather than a social network. Currently, like Google, much of its revenue is through advertising. But unlike Google, it doesn’t have a great deal of hardware (or software integrated into hardware, like Android) that it can take proprietary data from on user behaviour, key to its advertising proposition. Also, like any technology company, Facebook has to have a vision of the future that is at least 10 years out.
Consider what consumer technology looked like 10 years ago. Then imagine what could be achieved in 10 year’s time. A mixed-reality is the next big race for all consumer (and B2B) tech companies. Whoever gets there first with a product that gains mass adoption could potentially have something which takes over from mobile phones. If Facebook could launch a product that supersedes smartphones as the item that everyone carries with them, it secures the future of the company for decades to come.
There’s still a significant design challenge there, convincing people to wear glasses who normally wouldn’t won’t be easy. But the rewards for getting this right are too high for Facebook to ignore.