Tech

Facebook's former head of virtual reality, Hugo Barra, is leaving the company

He exits after four years to pursue his interest in healthcare technology.

Facebook vice president of VR Hugo Barra demonstrates how to use the new Oculus Go during the annual F8 summit at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center in San Jose, California on May 1, 2018. - Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg announced the world's largest social network will soon include a new dating feature -- while vowing to make privacy protection its top priority in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. (Photo by JOSH EDELSON / AFP)        (Photo credit should read JOSH EDELSON/AFP via Getty Images)
JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images

Facebook’s Hugo Barra, who previously led Oculus from 2017 to 2019, is leaving after four years. Barra serves as a vice president of virtual reality, and after stepping down from Oculus transitioned to a new role in NYC “building a global AR/VR partner ecosystem.”

Something new — In a post on Facebook (of course) Barra says that he plans on pursuing his interest in healthcare technology. “Society is still poorly equipped with the tools people need to really understand our health and gain control over our health outcomes. Inspired by this reflection and after working in tech for over 20 years, I've decided to try something completely different — to dive into the deep unknown (for me) and explore the healthcare technology space.”

Before joining Facebook, Barra served as an executive at Xiaomi and Google before that, where he was a product manager for Android. His LinkedIn profile shows that he often stays at a company for four to five years before moving on, so his departure from Facebook doesn’t necessarily suggest trouble.

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That said, he is leaving just as Facebook prepares to release its first smart glasses in collaboration with Ray-Ban. “I'm equally excited about what's yet to come, starting this year with the launch of Facebook's smart glasses in partnership with Ray-Ban, which will begin connecting the dots from today's VR headsets to tomorrow's AR glasses,” he said.

Like other companies pursuing smart glasses, Facebook likely hopes that AR will be the next major platform after the smartphone through which it can collect data and control the ecosystem of apps. Whether people would trust Facebook enough to buy its product is another question entirely.

VR legacy — Barra oversaw the launch of the Oculus Quest, by far the most popular virtual reality headset to date. It marked the first all-in-one virtual reality headset that could provide a solid experience to the masses without any fuss (there was the Oculus Go before that, but Facebook discontinued it because it had limited directional tracking).

While they’ve advanced greatly, VR and AR remain relatively niche product segments that have yet to truly go mainstream. With a legacy of success solidified, now might be the best time for Barra to bow out and pursue an interest in healthcare.

Late last year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that the critically acclaimed Quest 2 is “on track to be the first mainstream virtual reality headset,” noting it drove a 156-percent increase in the company’s non-advertising revenue. More than $100 million in sales have gone through the Oculus Store. Facebook doesn’t release sales numbers for the headsets, however. But suffice to say betting on VR hasn’t proven a bad idea yet.