Facebook has announced the cancelation of its annual F8 developer conference, citing concerns around the developing coronavirus health crisis.
Next to Facebook's annual Oculus Connect event, the F8 developer conference is the biggest and best event to find out about augmented reality and VR developments from the software and social media giant, which makes its cancelation particularity significant for the immersive computing space.
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"Given the growing concerns around COVID-19, we've made the difficult decision to cancel the in-person component of F8 2020," said Konstantinos Papamiltiadis, Facebook's director of developer platforms and programs, in a statement.
"This was a tough call to make — F8 is an incredibly important event for Facebook and it's one of our favorite ways to celebrate all of you from around the world — but we need to prioritize the health and safety of our developer partners, employees and everyone who helps put F8 on. We explored other ways to keep the in-person part of F8, but it's important to us to host an inclusive event and it didn't feel right to have F8 without our international developers in attendance."
The move from Facebook follows the cancelation of the massively attended Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona, Spain, in February (where Microsoft launched the HoloLens 2 last year). In recent days, several major companies, including Sony, Unity, and Facebook, have opted to cancel their attendance at the annual Game Developers Conference, which is, as of this writing, still scheduled to start on March 16 in San Francisco.
Just before Facebook's announcement on Thursday, Microsoft's Game Stack team announced that it would also be pulling out of the Game Developers Conference.
"After a close review of guidance by global health authorities and out of an abundance of caution, we've made the difficult decision to withdraw from participating at Game Developers Conference 2020 in San Francisco," the company's statement reads. "The health and safety of players, developers, employees, and partners around the world is our top priority. Especially as the world is experiencing growing public health risks associated with coronavirus (COVID-19)."
However, Microsoft will move at least some of its meetings to digital-only from March 16 to 18, in addition to developer sessions that viewers can stream online.
Facebook's F8 event would have started on May 5 in San Jose, California. Given Facebook's long lead time regarding the event and its decision to cancel it today, many other major tech conferences that host AR and VR companies will now be in the spotlight. These include the Game Developers Conference, South by Southwest, which starts on March 13 in Austin, Texas, and AWE, which is scheduled for on May 27 in Santa Clara, California, just a couple of weeks after the start of Facebook's now-canceled event.
And while Apple's annual WWDC event doesn't usually start until June, when some experts hope the coronavirus spread has been reined in, the event is close enough that Apple may also be considering its options as events unfold.
On the upside, this could also be the perfect opportunity for Facebook to show off the power of its AR and VR tools to hold a virtual presence conference, allowing developers and end-users to meet via avatars and virtual screens. Such an effort would be a massive undertaking, even in virtual space, but it could also serve as the best demonstration of why Facebook's AR and VR platforms are the future.
In the meantime, in addition to conference cancelations, the technology sector is beginning to suffer under the strain of the coronavirus as China is a vital part of the supply chain for immersive computing hardware makers like Nreal and parts for Apple's iPhone.
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