Those panoramas trapped on your phone will finally get a better viewing experience, both on News Feed and the Oculus-powered Samsung Gear VR. Facebook is also releasing Gear VR usage stats for the first time, saying Gear VR has 1 million monthly users, and those who use it spend 25 minutes per day on the device. That could encourage developers to build for the platform.
Facebook’s upcoming “360 Photos” feature will let people upload flat panoramas like those taken on iPhones, Google Photo Spheres or photos from 360 cameras. Facebook will then morph them into 360 Photos for News Feed where users will be able to hold and drag to pan around the photos, or move their heads to look around them on the Gear VR.
360 Photos made from panoramas could democratize VR content creation by allowing people to make it with no special equipment. They’ll just need an iPhone running iOS 6 or later, an Android running v4.2 or later or one of many 360 photo apps available for download. In fact, many people will have already created this content, which before was tough to view.
Google, for reference, built its Photo Sphere system into Android, allowing users to take full 360 panoramas and then watch them on VR headsets like Google Cardboard.
Facebook has had support for 360 videos in the News Feed since September, but good 360 videos are tough to shoot and often require designated hardware. Now a large percentage of smartphones can shoot for VR.
The Samsung Gear VR launched worldwide 6 months ago a $99 mobile virtual reality headset powered by Oculus’ technology. Users slide a recent Samsung Galaxy phone in, which acts as the screen. Now Oculus owner Facebook is providing some stats on its progress.
The company says that more than one million people used the Gear VR last month, and developers have built more than 250 apps for it, including games like Minecraft and a variety of video experiences.
In an effort to dispel the idea that VR is just for gamers, Facebook touts that nearly 80 percent of Gear VR users each day watch video content, and 7 of the top 10 Gear VR apps are for video.
Facebook is also touting new video series coming to the Gear VR, including Felix & Paul Studios’ Nomads series following the lives of Nomadic people from Mongolia and Kenya. Discovery will meanwhile release a new VR experience based on its hit TV show Deadliest Catch about fishing for Alaskan crabs in the Bering Sea.
Oculus is also updating its Oculus Home on Gear VR to make it easier to navigate, especially for finding recently downloaded content. Meanwhile, the Oculus Mobile app will get a “What’s New” section highlighting recently launched content, which should help users from getting bored until more VR experiences are released.
The new Oculus Home design
While the Oculus Rift might command more attention, it’s mobile VR headsets like the Gear VR that will bring virtual reality to a mainstream audience. But to be appealing, there needs to be tons of great content created for them, like these most watched 360 videos on Facebook. Some VR users are already telling me they’ve burned through most of the high-quality video and games, and are using their headsets less until fresh content is produced.
Through pro-focused initiatives like the open sourcing of Facebook’s 360 Surround VR camera, and the new 360 photo features, people from across the spectrum will be able contribute to the library of experiences we strap to our faces.