Facebook hires former Xiaomi/Google exec Hugo Barra to head its VR operations

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Just a few days after Xiaomi Inc. executive Hugo Barra announced he was leaving the struggling Chinese smartphone maker, Facebook Inc. said on Wednesday that he will head all virtual reality operations for the social network.

Barra, a rising star who had left Google in 2013 to head Xiaomi’s efforts to expand globally, will be vice president of VR. His job essentially means he also will be chief executive of Oculus, Facebook’s big bet on VR as the future technology uber-platform. Former Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe in December stepped down from the top post to head Oculus’ personal computer efforts.

Barra’s a catch for Facebook, and one that apparently it pounced on quickly, since Barra had told Recode this week that he wasn’t leaving Xiaomi until February and planned to take some time off. The executive had been a prominent figure in Google’s Android efforts.

Meanwhile, Xiaomi’s bid to expand outside China into countries such as India and Brazil hasn’t been all that successful. What’s more, Xiaomi, only a couple of years ago the hottest smartphone maker in China, has since fallen back, losing ground the Apple Inc.’s iPhone and others.

Still, Barra’s experience in bringing both software and hardware to the masses is clearly what Facebook can use for Oculus and its VR and augmented reality efforts, which like others in the nascent industry have been slow to catch on with the wider public. Replying to Zuckerberg’s post, Barra hinted at his general strategy:

“It’s been a dream of mine to work in virtual reality even back when AR/VR were just figments of science fiction; now we’re taking selfies in virtual worlds. I learned from Xiaomi CEO Lei Jun that there’s no greater calling in our industry than taking breakthrough tech and making it available to the greatest number of people. Really looking forward to doing just that at Facebook — taking VR mainstream — working with you, Brendan, Mike Schroepfer, and the Oculus team!”

Here’s Zuckerberg’s full post:

I’m excited that Hugo Barra is joining Facebook to lead all of our virtual reality efforts, including our Oculus team. Hugo’s in China right now, so here we are together in VR. It seems fitting.

I’ve known Hugo for a long time, starting when he helped develop the Android operating system, to the last few years he’s worked at Xiaomi in Beijing bringing innovative devices to millions of people.

Hugo shares my belief that virtual and augmented reality will be the next major computing platform. They’ll enable us to experience completely new things and be more creative than ever before. Hugo is going to help build that future, and I’m looking forward to having him on our team.

Meanwhile, Google made a virtual reality hire of its own. The company announced that Claude Zellweger, HTC’s vice president of design, where he led the design of the HTC Vive, is joining Google’s Daydream VR team.

Photo courtesy of Facebook