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To realize its VR dreams, Facebook needs to kill what Oculus has built – TechCrunch



Mark Zuckerberg has poured billions into his virtual reality dream, a new platform that Facebook owns.

Facebook bought Oculus and has spent the last five years killing what it was and reinventing it as a Facebook-scale company. It has dumped most of the co-founders, brought in Zuck loyalists to take over the most important decisions and shifted towards accessibility over appeasing the company’s early supporters.

Facebook’s latest release is the realization of all that.

The company’s Quest product, which they released on Tuesday, offers a streamlined version of high-end virtual reality while leveraging time-honed software to make the process of getting up-and-running immeasurably easier. It’s probably the best VR product that’s been built yet, and one that has the mainstream firmly in view.

Facebook needs to lean in on the new device and move away from what got it there.

With past VR releases, there’s always been a key technology to blame or a key feature that was missing, but if the Oculus Quest fails, Facebook may just have to consider that the whole product category doesn’t hold the mass appeal it hoped for. Of more immediate concern should be why they’re maintaining such a differentiated product line in in pursuit of the mainstream when the Quest is largely alone in appealing to the mainstream customer that they actually want.

As the closing of the Oculus acquisition approaches its fifth birthday, one wonders where Facebook’s 10-year-plan for virtual reality begins to show some signs of critical success. Even as the company has built up a niche group of VR gamers and shipped millions of headsets, the company is still grappling with coaxing a mass audience and recouping what it’s invested.

Whether or not the Quest succeeds, you can only wonder how they’ll aim to streamline their current product line as the blank checks from Facebook start running out.

The underpowered $199 Go proved to be a nice piece of hardware for the price, but the year-old system is still ultimately a very forgettable introduction to the medium for new users. How much does Oculus gain from growing the user base of a product that’s best use case is watching Netflix in isolation? Samsung and Oculus made such a concerted push with the Gear VR, throwing free headsets at users, but ultimately developers aren’t investing in these platforms and that’s only going to grow more true.

Meanwhile the company’s bread-and-butter PC-based headset line could have a murky future as well. The latest Rift S which also launched this week to lesser fanfare is basically a lateral move for Oculus and suggests that the company likely isn’t willing to push boundaries on the high-end while it aims to gain its footing in the mainstream. Whether the Quest succeeds or fails, I would not be surprised to see the company fade the high-end into its standalone line over time. The PC will always drive the most high-end experiences, but it’s no place to stake a platform that still needs to prove itself.

Maintaining three distinct product lines isn’t just expensive from a hardware R&D point-of-view, it vastly complicates the company’s relationship with the developers its backing to build stuff that’s worth playing. The economics for VR game developers is already dodgy at best, if Oculus has determined that PC isn’t somewhere it wants to innovate with hardware it should just let the product class run its course and prioritize using the latest mobile chipsets in future standalone releases.

Oculus is a large org, but it’s more redundant than a company setting the stage for a new platform can afford to be. Facing its prolonged degradation, Nintendo reshaped its mobile and home consoles into a single product. Oculus needs to do the same, and they already have.

In 2014, Facebook bought a company that was promising to shape the future of VR by kickstarting it. Appealing to the high-end earned it millions of passionate early users on PC and millions of mobile users that gained an early taste of the platform. As Facebook has absorbed Oculus deeper into its org structure and promoted its own vision for creating a mass audience, the company has created something great with the Quest, perhaps something worth killing the product lines that got it there.

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Instagram’s updated Stories design for desktop finally arrives



Following a test that first revealed the change a few weeks ago, Instagram has officially rolled out its updated Stories design on desktop. The new interface is a relatively small change from the previous iteration, making it easier for users to browse Stories from their laptop or desktop.

As we first saw earlier this month, the updated Stories for desktop feature provides Instagram users with a carousel-type design that shows both upcoming videos and the ones you recently watched. This makes it easier for users to control the media they watch while on their desktop.

Users can click on the videos that are visible in the carousel to skip to the ones they’re interested in. The update is fairly minor but improves the experience for those who often watch Stories using a web browser rather than their mobile device (which still offers the best experience).

Many people browse Instagram on desktop while at work where pulling out a phone may be prohibited or too conspicuous. Instagram has slowly expanded its features for desktop users, including making it possible to access DMs on the web.

Stories are, of course, the ephemeral videos and images that users can share in a space other than their news feed. This content disappears after a relatively short period of time and is great for those posts you want others to see, but that you don’t want to drop into your followers’ feeds.

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NASA Hot Wheels Mars Perseverance Rover released in time for landing



Hot Wheels revealed a new model in their NASA-associated lineup this week. This is the Hot Wheels Mars Perseverance Rover die-cast vehicle. This piece of hardware likely has more authentically modeled detail than any other product you can purchase for any price anywhere near a single US dollar. You’ll likely find this vehicle in stores for around $1.09 USD.

NASA and Hot Wheels revealed the Hot Wheels Mars Perseverance Rover die-cast vehicle today, modeled directly after the official NASA Perseverance Rover. This 1:64 scale replica is slightly larger in scale than your average Hot Wheels vehicle – but right on-point with the actual space-faring vehicle.

This vehicle “pays homage to the cutting-edge instruments and technologies that will help pave the way for human missions to Mars, studying critical data about Mars’ geology and climate and eventually sending Martian samples back to Earth. The designers of this toy worked with drawings and photos of the actual vehicle courtesy of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Hot Wheels worked with NASA on several similar vehicles and ships over the past several decades, including 5 “Action Packs” from the years 1997-1999 with JPL or NASA themes. Included in that mix were the JPL Sojurner Mars Rover, Apollo Mission, Galileo Mission, John Glenn, and JPL Returns to Mars. Now the Perseverance Rover continues this NASA and space exploration tradition on into the future!

The real-deal Perseverance Rover is expected to land in the Jazero Crater on Mars on February 18, 2021. If you’re looking to find the Hot Wheels model before the big landing on the red planet, you’re in luck. You’ll find this model in stores in the weeks leading up to said landing, starting today. Take a peek at the timeline below for more Hot Wheels action and stay tuned as we get up close and personal!

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Nothing revealed by OnePlus founder Carl Pei



There’s a company called Nothing in the works, courtesy of Carl Pei. This is one of the people that made OnePlus happen a few years ago – he left OnePlus recently. Now, Carl Pei’s aiming to make something interesting. The company’s name, Nothing, works with the description of said company and all the details offered up thus far. It’s all intentionally vague and intriguing.

Carl Pei released Nothing today as a new venture, based in London, with a description that reads as follows. “A new, forward-thinking consumer technology company.” UPDATE: More details in the mix!

As the video released today suggests, “It’s easy to make something. Even easier when it’s just like the thing before it. And the one before that. But like all good things, this one starts from scratch. No notes. No blueprints. No map to find our way back.”

The intro video for this company goes on to say, “We’re rethinking everything, from what we make and how we make it… to what goes in and what goes out.*”

*At this point in the video, we see a couple of measurements. One says SPACE 2.5mm, the other says SPACE 5x5mm. We COULD assume this means they’re making a processor chip – that’d work with the 5x5mm, but a processor chip that’s also 2.5mm thick is… pretty thick.

“A giant reset button for all things innovation,” says the intro video for Nothing (aka @nothingtech on Twitter). “And so we go, confident that what’s in reach isn’t worth reaching for. We know, because we tried reaching a little further, and came up with… NOTHING.”

This release also suggests that “technology should fade into the background and feel like nothing.” The Nothing dot Tech website is ready to roll now. We’re in the process of getting a whole lot more information about this company – and what it’ll make – so stay tuned!

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