The days of staring at a screen with nothing on a Zoom call are numbered as Facebook adds another layer to how we communicate.
This week Facebook launched Horizon Workrooms – its first major step toward chief executive Mark Zuckerberg’s imagined metaverse, an all-encompassing alternate reality that blends the real world with digital imaginations and enhancements.
This is Zoom personified or even turned around to make human beings cartoons. The basic concept is that instead of video-conferencing with a webcam, participants use virtual reality gear – like Facebook’s own Oculus Quest 2 – to meet up in a VR workspace.
Those who tested the app prerelease, report that the real experience is considerably more impressive. Spatial audio processing renders your colleagues’ voices closer or farther away depending on how close you’re “seated” to one another in virtual space.
There’s also the usual VR addedimmersion factor, which is difficult to express to anyone who hasn’t experienced it directly. Aside from providing the basics of getting together in a virtual “room” and chatting, Workrooms supports the usual teleconference features – whiteboards, screen sharing, chat, and so forth. Meeting participants can draw freehand on their desk or the whiteboard, pin images from their computer to the whiteboard, and mark them up, with the ability to export an image of the whiteboard itself to the computer for later use or sharing.
Horizon Workrooms supports head-tracking – if you turn your head to look at a colleague or a room whiteboard, your vision pans along with you. But Workrooms also supports controller-less gesture tracking, enabling one colleague to give another a thumbs-up or thumbs-down, among other gestures.
According to Facebook, the company will abstain from the less-friendly kind of tracking it normally performs on its users elsewhere.
“Workrooms will not use your work conversations and materials to inform ads on Facebook,” the company says, and it also makes an effort to limit how much data leaves your office or home office in the first place.
Another feature Workrooms offers is a layered, mixed reality that incorporates “pass through” video from the Quest 2’s sensors; participants can choose to look “through” the VR headset to see a grainy, grayscale image of what’s in the real world with them. (This should especially be a blessing for users with limited touch-typing skills.)
Facebook promises neither it nor third-party apps will be allowed to access, view, or use images and videos from your real-world environment to target ads. For those who don’t have their VR gear handy – or don’t want to use it – you can call into Workrooms with a standard webcam and microphone and show up on a virtual television screen within the workspace. Workrooms support up to 50 people on a call, 16 of whom can be in full VR.
This sounds like a step in the right direction for creating a virtual world in the workspace. Facebook will have to work harder to ensure that businesses can trust Facebook with their secrets which will be shared on the virtual space for work. Facebook history tells us that the company has in the past spied on competitors before buying them out in the quest to dominate the market.
Badly handled, Horizon Workrooms would make it easier for Facebook to access information about competitors. Besides surveillance concerns, Facebook has to be given the credit of leading in this space which seems to be the next big thing in tech.
To solve the trust issue Facebook may have to consider releasing this to the opensource community to be embraced as a standard for the virtual world.