MWC: Is Virtual reality the next big thing?

Facebook shared how it was bringing its streaming technology for 360 video to Samsung Gear VR in coming weeks

Virtual reality is a major focus at Mobile World Congress 2016 with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg making a surprise appearance at Samsung’s press conference talking up progress in virtual reality and to promote VR in the future as “the most social platform.”

Facebook paid $2 billion to buy Oculus which has been working with Samsung on its Gear VR consumer headsets.  Not surprising then Zuckerberg says “soon we’re going to live in a world where everyone has the power to share and experience whole scenes as if you’re just there, right there in person.” He said this as he appeared on stage during the Samsung event just after members of audience took off the Gear VR headsets they had put on to experience virtual reality during Samsung’s presentation.

To deal with the challenges in delivering social VR, Facebook recently created new teams to build the next generation of social apps in VR. Hundreds of new titles are coming to Oculus store this year, Zuckerberg says, including Minecraft.

Facebook has been selling Gear VR for $99, though for the time being it will be bundled for free to folks who pre-order the company’s latest flagship phones that were unveiled here, the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 edge. According to Zuckerberg millions of people will get their hands on a Gear VR this year.

New battlefield for brands
Samsung are one of many pushing VR in Barcelona this week with HTC, in partnership with Valve, announcing that it will begin taking pre-orders on the consumer version of HTC Vive on Feb. 29; the price is $799 for now.

Samsung and Korean rival LG announced new 360 cameras and the latter is also bringing own VR headset to work with its new G5 phone, while Chinese-owned Alcatel will ship its new Idol 4S smartphones in a plastic box that doubles as Google Cardboard compatible VR viewer.

Is this the next big thing the mass market will adopt or a niche?
Second Life, burst onto the scene back in 2003, the web was in its infancy, mobile devices were archaic and VR was far from mass reality. According to some estimates, Second Life still boasts 900,000 active users or residents a month who socialise, learn and explore hobbies including fashion, bowling and sailing online. Users cashed out $60 million last year from businesses and content made and sold within Second Life.

Thirteen years on from Second Life’s innovation, the mobile web has leapfrogged the internet as we knew it and VR has the potential to be huge, however in Africa it is far from a necessity.

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