Facebook Inc. hired Hugo Barra to lead its virtual reality efforts just days after he quit Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi Corp.
Barra, who led Xiaomi’s international expansion, will now take on a different challenge as vice president of virtual reality. He will need to navigate the competitive and young market, where Facebook’s Oculus Rift and Gear products 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 phones, to help Oculus. Facebook in December gave the chief executive officer of Oculus, Brendan Iribe, a narrower role and started looking for a replacement for the division.
Facebook bought Oculus for about $2 billion in 2014. CEO Mark Zuckerberg envisions virtual reality as a social platform, and says 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 in a Facebook post. “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 $1 billion for the first time in 2016.
Latest estimates from Canalys and Counterpoint Research put Xiaomi among the top five sellers in the country, considered the world’s fastest-growing major phone market. The company however has struggled elsewhere, notably in Brazil, Barra’s home country.
Xiaomi was last valued at $45 billion in 2014, making it one of the world’s largest startups. It drew comparisons to Apple Inc. after doubling revenue that year and climbing to the top of the Chinese smartphone market . It’s since struggled, missing its 2015 shipments target and falling behind Chinese brands, Vivo, Oppo and Huawei.
“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,” Barra said in comments on Zuckerberg’s Facebook post.