Facebook Spaces app finally links the social network to its Oculus Rift VR headset
Facebook has unveiled a new virtual reality (VR) platform called Spaces which is designed to allow users of the platform to spend time with their friends in a virtual space.
Spaces will be accessible through a new VR app which launches in beta for Oculus Rift and Touch today.
Oculus, the makers behind the headset, was bought by Facebook in 2014 for $2bn (£1.6bn) and Spaces marks the most significant integration between the social media platform and headset yet.
Users can choose one of their Facebook photos as the starting point for their virtual persona.
They are then offered the opportunity to customise their avatar until they are happy with the appearance. Eye colour, hairstyle, facial features and more can all be customised.
Once created, the avatar can enter various virtual spaces based on both real-world and computer-generated locales and meet up with other users of the app.
Speaking at F8, the company’s annual conference for software developers, Zuckerberg said Facebook was an obvious hub for businesses to reach people and experiment with augmented reality and virtual reality.
Other uses of augmented reality have included the ability to hang out with a hologram of ‘Mad Men’ star Jon Hamm or assemble a virtual human brain, all on mobile devices.
A recent push by Facebook to add camera features to its suite of smartphone apps will help the company popularise similar features, Zuckerberg said.
“Even if we were a little slow to add cameras to all our apps, I’m confident that now we’re going to push this augmented reality platform forward,” he said.
For a company that began as a way for college students to see pictures of each other, Facebook’s move toward augmented reality represents another step in its long evolution. It also raises the stakes for its competition with rival Snap Inc, the maker of Snapchat which describes itself as a camera company.
Last year Snapchat launched a pair of $129 camera-equipped glasses that allow its users to create first-person perspective shots for posting on its social network.
Zuckerberg said people could use augmented reality technology to leave a virtual note for a friend at a bar, or to find virtual street art on a wall that in real life is blank.
“This isn’t just about finding a Pokémon in a one-block radius,” he said, referencing the popular Pokémon Go app that came out last summer.
Eventually, he said, people would use augmented reality on eyewear, although he did not give any details about possible Facebook hardware.
As part of his conference address, Zuckerberg addressed shortcomings on another major project, Facebook’s push into video. He said the service needed to do more to prevent the spread of violent videos, such as one on Sunday of a fatal shooting in Cleveland that was visible on the site for two hours.
The Facebook-owned Instagram network also announced that it was introducing a new offline feature for its Android app at the F8 conference.
The new functionality will allow users to create posts as well as view, comment on and save posts already downloaded to their phones even when there is no internet connection.