The growing trend towards wearables and virtual reality, and to some extent the rise of the Internet of Things, confirms that the key players believe that experiences which augment, interact and enhance our daily life are the future of technology.
Google has already firmly committed itself to the investment in devices like cars and glasses that will offer this functionality and its YouTube property has already made 360 degree videos available with a functionality similar to that deployed on the ground-level Street View offering of Google Maps.
What are spherical videos?
Facebook announced at its F8 conference at the end of March that it was planning to boldly go where Google has gone with what it referred to as ‘spherical’ videos.
These immersive videos can be shot by 24 cameras working together and allow the viewer to navigate around their virtual space using either the mouse, a finger on a touch screen or a special helmet worn over the eyes.
Speaking at the San Francisco conference, Facebook owner and CEO Mark Zuckerberg revealed that this new technology is headed for a News Feed near you at a date to be confirmed.
“You can move around inside the video, and view it from different angles,” he explained, before going on to link its development to Facebook’s purchase of Oculus for $2 million last year. “You’re going to be able to put on your Oculus headset and view spherical videos there too.” said Zuckerberg.
The Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, and the development of ‘spherical’ videos that can be viewed through them, are perhaps just the start of Facebook’s VR ambitions.
For now, Mark allowed attendees at the conference to experience the videos in specially designed ‘Teleportation Stations’ at the latest conference.
How can spherical videos be used?
So what does this all actually mean for Facebook advertisers and users? Is it a revolutionary idea or a hollow gimmick? Is it a ball inflated by hot air or a golden globe?
Facebook demonstrated the technology and experience by showing an immersive view of Facebook’s Californian headquarters, but what use could the technology offer others?
The main aim here must be to provide a platform for advertisers, or at least for companies and large organisations. The complexity in creating such videos is well beyond the means and technical knowledge of individual users.
Which is not to say the end users will not benefit from the experiences of such videos, simply that they do not have the means of production.
- News and Sports media partners could allow a 360 degree look around a news event or an ability analyse key moments from a high-profile sporting clash. The ability to ‘be there’ will encourage interaction, comment and analysis and turn the passive spectator into an active analyst.
- As an advertising platform such immersive experiences are ideal for bringing museums, theme parks and attractions to life. Early adopters can showcase their spaces as a key online differentiator from the seemingly flat images of less media-rich competitors.
- Lego has already experimented, to great effect, with in-store videos that bring a Lego set to life upon the flat surface of its packaging when this is placed in front of a camera. It’s not hard to extrapolate from this to see just how useful this could be for retailers looking to sell online without the ‘touchy-feely’ benefits of a retail store.
- The use for healthcare professionals or educators to provide teaching and instruction online, with reduced risk of misunderstandings, could help greatly reduce the need for doctor or teacher contact time. This is particularly the case if the videos did not just allow you to explore them but to make choices that led to different outcomes.
The true test of any technology is usually in how it is adopted and the costs of its adoption. Whether spherical videos will see their time come around or just bounce remains to be seen.
But I’m certainly going to be popping into my own private Teleportation Station to check them out when they appear in my News Feed.
It’d be rude not to.
About the Author
Mat Fidge writes on social media for Nexus Design and Print, Brighton’s marketing agency. He’ll happily don any headgear to test out new technology.
Image source: author-owned