Source: Forbes Yesterday marked the last day of F8 2017, Facebook’s annual developer conference, which I’ve been attending the last several days in
Yesterday marked the last day of F8 2017, Facebook’s annual developer conference, which I’ve been attending the last several days in San Jose (my rundown of ). Attendance for Day 2 was considerably down from Day 1, but I certainly wasn’t complaining—no line to get into the keynote and it wasn’t raining. I was a little disappointed in the overall lack of significant hardware news from the Day 2 keynote like some sort of Amazon.com Echo/Dot or Google Home knock-off. There was some hardware and some very pleasant surprises towards the end that made it worth my while as it provided insights to where Facebook is headed. And why they’re headed there. Here’s my rundown of the keynote with some points of analysis and opinion.
Facebook Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer kicked off Day 2’s keynote by referencing Facebook’s 10-year “roadmap” and setting the agenda for the day—a deeper dive into the three main areas Facebook is focusing on in the coming decade: , , and . To be clear, this isn’t a real product development roadmap, but more of a directional statement of vision.
Schroepfer proceeded to introduce two new 360 camera designs—the x24, and the fun-sized version, x6. With 6DoF capabilities (6 degrees of freedom, for the uninitiated) Facebook claims these cameras will provide “some of the most immersive and engaging content” ever shot for VR purposes. The 6DoF is interesting as it adds the element of depth to VR video. I saw some cool demos from Intel at CES 2017 using HypeVR that enables you to look around objects and it blew me away. Anshel Sag got up close and personal with the new cameras and will be doing a deeper dive later next week.
Schropefer also introduced the 360 Capture SDK, which allows developers and hence the developer’s users users to capture their own custom VR experiences through 360 photos and videos, and then upload it to a VR headset, or their own Facebook News Feed. These feature additions are smart as it leverages community in a way that sharing regular photos today can for non-360 folks. Facebook with YouTube is a leader in being the first to allow users to share VR videos today and I just started doing it with my new Gear 360 camera.
The other bit of “360” news, is that Facebook has developed three new AI techniques that purportedly will improve the resolution of 360 captures—AI view prediction, gravitational view prediction, and content-dependent streaming technology for non-VR devices. By using these techniques to predict where exactly to focus the highest concentration of pixels, which Facebook claims will improve VR experiences under difficult network conditions. This is important stuff and the more quickly you can do these VR tricks, the faster the industry will get to a killer experience. We aren’t there now.
Why is VR and 360 so important to Facebook? Two reasons. VR is a new platform where new eyeballs and new ad units will be. Facebook doesn’t want to get caught off-guard again like when they went public and they were criticized for their reliance on “desktop.” Remember that? It took them a year and they did a masterful job going “mobile”. VR is a new advertising platform and they need to be there. Finally, VR is also a new paid content unit. As Netflix did a judo move on Blockbuster, why can’t Facebook do the same to Netflix with VR games and movies?
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Improving low and high-speed connectivity
Facebook’s business model is driven by the number of users and their activity level to drive effective advertising. Facebook has nearly 2B users but they eye more people in emerging regions and realize they need any form of internet to get access to those markets. In those areas, they are investing in cheap or free internet. In other areas the goal is to get less expensive or faster internet. In a sense, Facebook is circumventing carriers which I’m keeping my eye on the long-term
Yael Maguire, director of Facebook’s Connectivity Program, took the stage after Schroepfer to discuss the work that Facebook is doing to help build “communities through connectivity”. Maguire noted that not all communities are capable of being connected by traditional methods—urban, densely populated areas don’t have enough bandwidth to support large amounts of users using large amounts of data, and on the flipside, it’s often too expensive to deploy technology in rural, remote communities. Maguire touted Facebook’s new Tether-tenna—a helicopter tethered to a wire containing fiber and power—a technique that takes the essence of the traditional radio tower, and makes it portable and immediately deployable in times of need. Maguire noted that there was still a lot of kinks to work out with Tether-tenna—figuring out what to do about wind and lightning, for one.
Free wireless services in impoverished regions helps family and public services. It also gets another billion people get on Facebook. This is why Facebook is doing this.
Maguire also spent a lot of time explaining millimeter wave technology (mmWave) to the audience like they’d never heard about it before, and talking up Facebook’s efforts in it. To be fair, some probably never had but everyone had heard of 5G and 5G relies heavily, not exclusively on mmWave. While they’ve managed to achieve some new benchmarks in terms of speed (36 Gbps over 13 km, 16 Gbps from ground to a Cessna, and 80 Gbps with an optical cross-link). I thought it was bizarre that they chose to focus so heavily on a technology, that frankly isn’t all that novel. What was even more bizarre is that there was no recognition of the companies who are really driving mmWave like Qualcomm, Intel, Samsung and Ericsson who pioneered all of this.
Great connectivity in cities is important. But why Facebook? It’s important for untethered AR and VR experiences. It’s also a potential play to cut the carriers out…