This week hasn’t exactly been stellar for Mark Zuckerburg. First, a whistleblower confirmed the company puts profits over public safety. Then Facebook went offline in a very public disaster, which prompted many users to flock to alternative sites, at least for an interim period. The CEO and Facebook’s PR responded and made things worse. And, in all the chaos, its not-so-standalone accessories apparently took a hit, too.
Scott Stein of CNet reported after the outage on how a company-wide blackout affects its inter-connected devices like the Oculus Quest and Ray-Ban smart glasses. Spoiler alert: Functionality is limited.
“What happens to an Oculus Quest when Facebook is down,” Stein questioned. “The answer is a weird and unfortunate mix. My Oculus headset still started up, and it still brought up a familiar virtual living room and showed me the list of apps I had installed. But Facebook's services underneath were gone. No app store. No avatars. No Facebook friends. Even the app icon graphics weren't loading.”
Oculus Quest — While the Quest 2 needs a Facebook account to work, it still is an Android piece of technology. Accordingly you can download apps for the device and then cycle through them like you would with a standard gaming console. Games that were already downloaded on the device still worked and Stein found that non-Facebook apps like Microsoft’s Altspace VR still had “avatars floating around like everything was just fine.”
Despite some aspects of the Oculus Quest remaining usable during Facebook’s outage, larger questions were raised. What will happen when the tech giant further immeshes itself to the Oculus OS? As Stein points out the company seeks to create “a metaverse layer of software,” that could end up replacing the existing apps on the VR device. A deep interconnectedness between the platform and its physical hardware will lead to further problems in the future when the former has issues.
Ray-Ban smart glasses — While the Oculus still makes use of multiple companies for apps and social networks, Facebook’s smart glasses are more beholden to the site.
“The Facebook-connected app on my phone, which is the only place the glasses can download its photos and videos to, wouldn't log in,” Stein pointed out. “I was locked out. I was also locked out of my photos.”
If anything the biggest takeaway here is that mass interconnectedness through a small handful of companies, while convenient, has plenty of thorns. This issue isn’t unique to Facebook either — when Xbox or Playstation’s online services are down, it becomes difficult to use either console. But as more of our data and technological services migrate to the cloud, power or system outages will expose our over reliance on storing our lives online.