The AR and VR-focused Facebook Connect 2021 has kicked off with a bang, with a suite of new features and accessories including an entirely redesigned Home system, enhancements to the multiplayer experience and more heading to the ever-popular Oculus Quest platform.
The catch? Not everything will be immediately available, with some features currently scheduled for release in 2022, and some are exclusive to the newer Oculus Quest 2.
The biggest change coming to the standalone headset is Horizon Home, an overhaul of the existing Oculus Home menu that users spend time in when not in a specific VR app.
The Oculus Home menu has its perks, including a variety of themes, but it’s a largely solitary experience, and it’s not as customisable as some would like - especially when there are other apps that’ll let you fully customise your virtual environment, and even share it with friends. By comparison, Oculus Home doesn’t sound very metaverse-like, does it?
That’s where Horizon Home comes in. It’s a complete replacement of the Oculus Home system, with a focus on social activities. Facebook described the ability to share the space with your friends in VR, as well as perform basic activities and watch content without leaving Home, but there are bigger improvements to multiplayer that’ll be welcomed by many.
Facebook confirmed that your group of friends will be able to move between multiplayer VR apps as a group - a stark difference to the fragmented experience available right now, where each person has to open the app in question and join the same multiplayer session.
That means you’ll be able to carry on chatting as you move between apps and games, and you won’t have to manually re-join the group each time either, making for a more fluid, natural experience.
There’s no confirmed release for Horizon Home just yet, just a vague promise that it’ll be out in the coming months.
Mixed reality apps coming to Oculus Quest 2
Facebook also confirmed that mixed reality apps are officially coming to the Oculus Quest 2 via its black-and-white passthrough system, blending the virtual and physical world into one.
It’s not quite as simple as putting the headset on, with users having to map their entire room so the headset ‘knows’ where various objects are, but once that’s done, you’ll be able to enjoy a mixed reality experience where virtual objects interact with the real world.
There’s an official mixed reality experience called The World Beyond coming in early 2022 to give users an idea of what to expect from the next evolution in the world of VR and AR. Though not much is known about the project, a teaser showed a Quest 2 user throwing a virtual ball around the room, bouncing off real-world objects, with a cute Fox-like character chasing it around.
Facebook also confirmed that third-party developers will be able to ship mixed reality apps and games within the next few months, and provided a range of tools to developers to help create the new form of content.
Third-party 2D apps
Facebook has confirmed that third-party developers will be able to create Progressive Web Apps, also knowns as PWAs, for the Quest platform. These are essentially the web apps you see on desktop all the time from companies like Slack and Instagram that let you access a web-based version of their apps via your browser.
Tied with new 2D multi-tasking features, you’ll be able to have multiple 2D apps - like Dropbox, Slack, Instagram, or Monday - open alongside each other for a more immersive content consumption experience.
It was a feature first showed off in a concept video at Facebook Connect 2020, and fans really wanted to see it implemented into the standalone operating system.
The first handful of 2D apps will be available to download on the Oculus Quest platform later this week, with more on the way in the coming months.
Messenger Calls coming to VR
Facebook Messenger calls are also coming to VR, and not just for VR-to-VR chats either; you’ll be able to call those using Facebook Messenger on their smartphone or desktop, just as you would outside of VR.
Don’t expect any kind of video chat just yet though (a video call with Oculus avatars would be cool though, right?).
Active Pack for Quest 2
The Quest 2 is great for gaming, but Facebook has also seen a rise in fitness software over the past few years, with dedicated apps like Fit XR providing a VR-based exercise regime that keeps players coming back. Of course, the standard Oculus Quest 2 isn’t designed for high-octane, sweat-inducing exercise, so Facebook created the Active Pack for Quest 2.
Available sometime in 2022, the Active Pack for Quest 2 provides grippy controller covers to help the pads stay securely in your hands, along with a wipeable and cleanable faceplate - ideal for cleaning off the post-workout sweat, and handy if you want to share the headset with friends too. There isn’t much worse than putting on a slightly moist VR headset, trust me!
There’s no pricing for the Active Pack just yet, but given the basic nature of the bundle, it likely won’t sell for too high a price.
What was your favourite Quest-themed announcement of Facebook Connect 2021? Let us know on Twitter.