Facebook claims it will spend around $10 billion on Facebook Reality Labs, its research division for augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). Whether or not you care about Facebook as a company, that sizable investment could have a significant impact on the growth of the AR and VR market over the next several years.
What’s driving Facebook’s aggressive push into AR and VR? Perhaps it has a lot to do with Apple and Amazon, which have conquered the markets for phones and voice-activated assistants, respectively; Facebook executives might feel they need to dominate a hardware area of their own if they want to assure future profits and control.
The big question is whether consumers and businesses are receptive to AR and VR. For years, pundits and executives from across the tech industry have predicted that these platforms will go mainstream… at some point. Way back in 2014, for instance, Bloomberg released a proof-of-concept VR app that demonstrated how finance workers could use a virtual space to absorb and work with incredible amounts of information. Two years later, VR was all the rage at the Mobile World Congress, and Google launched Daydream VR, which was going to bring VR to the masses.
But many of those apps never hit the market, and Google eventually shuttered its VR initiatives. So far, virtual reality seems to have appealed largely to a niche of hardcore gamers, although Facebook’s line of Oculus VR headsets enjoyed a spike in sales during the pandemic. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is making a years-long, multi-billion-dollar bet that he can expand the audience for VR (and AR) beyond those gamers, with millions (perhaps even billions) of people taking part in what he dubs the “metaverse,” working and playing in virtual environments.
Even if people finally begin to embrace VR and AR as the next big platforms, Zuckerberg will still face significant competition from other tech giants. Apple, for example, is reportedly hard at work on an AR headset that could debut within the next few years. Microsoft has been iterating on its HoloLens AR headset, although it’s primarily marketed that device toward the enterprise. If Facebook looks like it’s making headway in the “metaverse,” you can count on these companies (and others, including Google) to react aggressively.
Who benefits from any increased interest in virtual and augmented worlds? Technologists who have mastered the programming languages and skills that undergird AR and VR could find their skills increasingly in demand. Although the market for VR-related jobs is small right now (with roughly 8,000 job postings over the past year, according to Burning Glass, which collects and analyzes job postings from across the country), these positions are expected to grow 31.7 percent over the next 10 years—a percentage that could rise even higher if tech companies start pouring more billions into VR and AR initiatives.
At the moment, skills vital to VR development include 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, in terms of Facebook, as well as ARKit (for Apple’s burgeoning AR plans). It’ll pay to be prepared if the tech industry manages to make VR/AR technology a mainstream attraction.