Brewing Apple and Facebook Battle Highlights Need for VR Skills

The virtual reality (VR) wars are heating up again. This time around, the primary combatants seem to be Facebook and Apple, which (if rumors prove correct) are proposing radically different futures for VR. Via its Oculus brand of headsets, Facebook is pushing VR as a relatively cheap commodity; meanwhile, Apple is reportedly hard at work on a high-end headset that could cost thousands of dollars.

“I think our inclination is probably going to be to try to offer these products at as low of a cost as possible in order to be able to get them out to everyone,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently told The Information’s podcast (hat tip to 9to5Mac for the transcription). “Unlike some of the other companies in the space that basically charge premium prices as their business model, one of our core principles is we want to serve everyone. I’m very focused not only on how you can create a good VR and AR device, but how do you make it so it’s $300 instead of $1,000.”

Actually, Apple’s headset might end up costing $3,000, and feature an array of expensive cameras and other high-end components. If you subscribe to the current scuttlebutt, this ultra-expensive headset will serve as a precursor for future, cheaper generations of Apple headsets—but those mass-market iterations could be many years away, if they surface at all.

Right now, the market for VR-related jobs is still really small, with roughly 8,000 job postings over the past year (according to Burning Glass, which collects and analyzes job postings from across the country). However, VR jobs are expected to grow 31.7 percent over the next 10 years. In the best-case scenario for companies investing heavily in VR, the market is analogous to that of mobile phone apps circa 2006—very small, but primed to explode with the introduction of just the right device and ecosystem.

However, the markets for virtual reality and augmented reality (AR) face significant headwinds. Very expensive AR headsets from Microsoft and Magic Leap failed to capture the popular imagination, which is potentially a bad sign for an ultra-costly Apple headset. Facebook’s Oculus has sold respectable numbers of headsets, but it’s far from becoming as ubiquitous as other types of consumer technology, such as smartphones.

In order for VR to really take off, it will need apps and services that consumers simply can’t live without. At the moment, however, most customers regard VR as niche, primarily for gaming. Mark Zuckerberg envisions a future in which people rely on VR devices for everything from remote family gatherings to meetings, but that hasn’t (yet) come to pass. As you can see from the following chart of companies hiring workers with VR skills, many defense contractors also have an interest in VR, no doubt for some kind of defense-related platforms:

If you’re interested in exploring VR as a career, make sure you know Python, C++, and the principles of project management and software development, all of which are frequently mentioned in VR-related job postings. You’ll also want to review the documentation and SDK for the Oculus platform, which is the main game in town at the moment.