Fri, Jan 27, 2017 - Page 10 News List

Facebook hires former Xiaomi exec to head VR push


Facebook Inc hired Hugo Barra to lead its virtual-reality (VR) efforts just days after he quit Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi Corp (小米).

Barra, who led Xiaomi’s international expansion, is to take on a different challenge as vice president of virtual reality. He will need to navigate the competitive and young market, where the Rift and Gear products of Facebook unit Oculus VR LLC have drawn interest, but not dominance.

Barra will draw on his experience building an operating system business, with Google’s Android, and a hardware brand, with Xiaomi’s smartphones, to help Oculus.

Facebook last month gave Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe a narrower role and started looking for a replacement for the division.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg envisions virtual reality as a social platform, and said Barra will help the company achieve that.

Competitors have been more focused on gaming.

“Hugo shares my belief that virtual and augmented reality will be the next major computing platform,” Zuckerberg said on Facebook. “They’ll enable us to experience completely new things and be more creative than ever before.”

Barra resigned from Beijing-based Xiaomi after a turbulent four years during which it rose to the top of its home market before local rivals mimicked its model and dethroned the brand.

He was given the task of taking the Chinese company global, helping it make inroads into India, where sales topped US$1 billion for the first time last year.

The latest estimates from Canalys and Counterpoint Research put Xiaomi among the top-five sellers in the country, considered the world’s fastest-growing major cellphone market.

However, the company has struggled elsewhere, notably in Brazil, Barra’s home country.

“It’s been a dream of mine to work in virtual reality, even back when AR [augmented reality]/VR were just figments of science fiction; now we’re taking selfies in virtual worlds,” Barra said in a comment on Zuckerberg’s Facebook post.

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