I believe that virtual and augmented reality will fundamentally transform the way people get things done in the future. The recent v30 update of Oculus Quest introduced multitasking as an experimental feature, taking a step toward this new way to accomplish things in VR. I wanted to share a few best practices I’ve discovered throughout its development.
Why Multitask in VR?
First, you might wonder why people would want to multitask in VR in the first place. A few key benefits have emerged in our internal testing. It provides a multi-screen productivity setup that’s much cheaper and more flexible than physical screens. It lets you work in a focused environment, seamlessly letting you shift between being immersed in a flow-inducing virtual world or grounded in physical reality. And it’s a lot more portable than lugging my desk around, meaning I can get deep work done from the kitchen table, living room couch, even the seat of an airplane (social acceptability notwithstanding). There are some great productivity apps available on Quest like Immersed and Virtual Desktop. But I think it’s great that you can now get things done right on Quest itself, without the need to connect to a remote PC or Mac.
Why Not Multitask in VR?
That said, there are still some impediments to the experience that make multitasking an early experiment rather than a complete productivity setup replacement today. Even on Quest 2, the ergonomics still aren’t there, with the headset becoming uncomfortable and eye strain becoming an issue after an hour. So prepare to take frequent breaks. The display resolution still feels a bit like the days of 640x480 single monitors before fitting multiple windows in view was really viable. And the window management system is still early and has a way to go before it feels as productive as desktop platforms.
But despite these drawbacks, I’ve been pleasantly surprised how well I’ve been able to enter that flow state of productivity once I really get going with multitasking, so it’s worth giving it a try if you’re up to the … task. So let’s get setup.
First, I highly recommend setting up a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard as primary input devices for productivity. Where controllers (and increasingly hands) are great for general-purpose navigation and entertainment consumption in VR, nothing beats a physical keyboard and mouse for efficient text entry and pointing. If you’re not a very proficient touch typist, the Logitech K830 can be tracked and displayed in Quest, which can be helpful for locating and pressing keys. Personally, I find it incredibly convenient to use the same keyboard and mouse that I use on my desk setup, so I highly recommend using multi-device supporting hardware, such as the Logitech MX Keys and Master 3. That way, you can easily switch between your desktop and Quest at the touch of a button, which leads to much more organic productivity in VR.
Next, get your environment setup for work. Here, you have a couple choices, depending on your needs at the time. Sometimes, I just want to be immersed and get into flow. For times like these, I choose a virtual environment that feels relaxing, inspiring, and viable for deep focus. My personal favorite is the Ryokan Retreat, which features a tranquil Japanese cityscape and ambient sounds of koi fish swimming in a pond. At other times, I want to stay more grounded in physical reality. So I enable the passthrough environment, which lets me see a black & white view of my home, keep up with people around me, and locate my keyboard and mouse.
Finally, to get started multitasking from the Universal Menu, navigate to Settings > Experimental Features, and enable Multitasking. After a restart and quick tutorial, you can start dragging and dropping 2D apps into the display to launch and move them around. You can also drag Browser tabs between or out into their own separate windows. Minimize and close can be used to hide windows from view. And the Universal Menu bar shows the most recently launched apps for easier switching between them.
Things to Try
Once setup, I find myself following a few multitasking patterns. First, one of the immediate benefits of running multiple apps is setting up passive screens that I want to keep running in the background and occasionally glance at or interact with. I typically open Browser to YouTube, Spotify, or Twitch to setup a playlist, album, or stream that I can listen to / watch on the side while I work on the other screens. Browser also supports the ability to freely resize windows, so I often shrink this screen down to make room for my other ones.
I then usually use the other two windows as primary and reference screens for my work. For instance, I might pull up Google Docs to work on a product strategy document while referencing a post on Workplace (our internal social network). I position these windows next to each other and again may resize them depending on their content. My mouse and keyboard make it easy to shift focus between them, typing in the doc while scrolling the other window to read. I can also open links in new tabs in Browser and drag tabs across windows or out into their own window as needed.
With this setup, I’ve frequently fallen into that fleeting flow state where the hours slip by, and I’m fully engaged in deep work. But like I mentioned before, the headset is still pretty heavy, and my eyes usually start feeling a little strained after about an hour, so I take frequent breaks. This is also a good way to relax the mind and come back to work in a refreshed headspace. I like to minimize or close all of the windows in between work sessions. This gives me a completely unobstructed view of Quest’s beautiful virtual environments, which often inspire a random serendipitous thought about my work when I get started again.
Again, we’re still in the early days of VR productivity, but it’s been fun exploring this new way to work. Now that I’m comfortable with this setup, I’m looking forward to trying a few experiments in the future. I’ve been blogging and writing a newsletter about product management, technology, and life that often requires focused, dedicated time to work on, which could be a good candidate for trying in VR. I also have a hunch that the next paradigm shifting VR experience could be built on the web, so I’ve been slowly experimenting with coding WebXR apps directly in VR. I’ll write about the good, bad, and ugly parts of those experiments here.
In the meantime, if you get a chance to try out multitasking on Quest, I’d love to hear about your experience too.
Cheers, and see you in the metaverse!