Facebook is working on an app that would allow viewers to watch immersive 360-degree videos with their smart phones, without the need to use a virtual reality headset, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal.
The app would use what’s known amongst virtual reality insiders as the “magic window” approach: Users would move and tilt their phones to explore a 360-degree spherical video, allowing them to explore the video beyond its traditional frame.
This idea isn’t new: Google has been for some timer experimenting with spherical videos with its Spotlight app, which allows the same kind of interaction. And YouTube added spherical video viewing to its mobile apps this summer.
In fact, the YouTube app gives viewers a choice whether they want to watch 360-degree videos with a Cardboard virtual reality headset, or instead use the magic window-approach to explore the video.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg first raised the possibility of adding 360-degree videos to Facebook’s newsfeed a few months ago. It’s possible that Zuckerberg’s comments and the Journal report are actually about the same project: It would make a lot more sense for Facebook to launch immersive video viewing within its existing apps, as opposed to launching a separate app.
That being said, dabbling in immersive video seems like a no-brainer for Facebook. The company spent more than $2 billion on virtual reality headset maker Oculus. But the Oculus headset is expected to be expensive when it comes out early next year, and it will require uses to own a high-end gaming PC.
Immersive video on the other hand runs on any halfway capable smart phone, and immersive storytelling could help to get more people curious about other virtual reality experiences.