VR as the “new normal”. Does this sound familiar to anyone? Yup, it’s been a long time coming and still needs to sprint to the finish, but the tipping point is now in sight.
VR has been in the public consciousness for around 80 years.
It was originally conceived in 1938 by French playwright, Antonin Artuad. His book “Le Theatre en son double” describes theater as a mixture of illusion and fiction. Fast forward through 40 years of real world VR exploration in science and science fiction and we’re in the decade of the Lawnmower Man. Soon after came The Matrix, that portrayed the Internet and VR as the new normal. We thought it was around the corner, but it wasn’t.
A lot of factors held back its tipping point into the mainstream.
Price and bulkiness of headsets, quality of content and lack of industry education are just three examples. The only exception where VR has started to become the new normal is in the world of gaming. But in the last two years we’ve seen all of these challenges start to fade away.
The future is bright. While analyst expectations for the VR market haven’t quite hit the target in the past, they’re still very bullish. $120bn by 2020 is probably the most popular forecast. This represents significant growth from the $11bn market value of 2017. But things are gathering pace, meaning $120bn could really be reached – in which case VR would be the new normal.
The growth of VR within the gaming community is a very real indication of the market potential.
Real world VR requires much simpler and more affordable headsets than gaming, meaning it’s growth will probably outpace gaming VR over time. You can now buy a Sony VR headset on Amazon for as little as $40 and a Google Cardboard for $5. When it comes to content, both quality and quantity are growing at a significant rate. And the industry is now working hard to communicate the benefits of VR and AR to broader audiences, both consumer and commercial.
One of the most important factors shifting VR towards the new normal is compatibility with smartphones. With 2.5bn in the world, the potential is massive. YouTube and Facebook have become the primary channels for sampling VR. By the end of 2016, 250 thousand 360 videos had been uploaded to Facebook and 280 million people had viewed them. And as well as being VR compatible, smartphones are also the gateway to the growth of AR. Pokémon Go resulted in a massive 500 million downloads. Popular culture is also telling us that VR is moving ever closer to being the new normal. It was even featured in The Simpsons’ 600th episode. You can’t get much more mainstream than that.
There are other indications of the new normal emerging around VR and AR.
All of today’s technology giants are in the game. Facebook, Google, Sony, Samsung, YouTube, Microsoft and Apple are all investing heavily and racing to dominate the space. And they’re doing more than hedging bets – they’re making firm and expensive commitments. Another indicator is that the Google cardboard app has been downloaded 10 million times, demonstrating a huge curiosity level among consumers.
Despite Google Glass being a failure, VR and AR glasses are likely to contribute significantly to growth. Microsoft’s HoloLens is likely to bring Mixed Reality to a much wider audience and there’s a lot of buzz around Magic Leap’s recently announced Lightwear.
Another key factor in taking VR and AR into the mainstream is experience enhancement.
In particular the in-home experience. Imagine watching a televised soccer game with a virtual real time scoreboard on your living room wall and experiencing replays in 3D right in front of you on your coffee table. And, as they enter the game, specific players walking into the room and demonstrating their particular skills. This adds massive consumer value and has massive potential for industry growth.
The TV industry has already had multiple forays into the VR space, admittedly some more successful than others. But it needs to invest more heavily in AR to really move things forward. For example, complex dramas can be brought alive or deconstructed through AR. Game of Thrones has used VR for a number of related projects including its animated title sequence. But imagine an AR version of this, whereby the well known map with all its animations and complexity can be brought to life in 3D AR animation – all on the living room carpet as an episode begins.
More than anything else, the key to making VR, AR and MR part of the new normal is to solve everyday problems for consumers and brands.
VR and especially AR are already starting to tackle real life challenges. It’s now common to be able to take a walk through a house in 360 via real estate sites. And soon we’ll have the ability to walk down a street with a smartphone and from the sidewalk, see which units are available for rent along with data about facilities, leases and pricing.
Hotel owners are increasingly using VR to provide consumers with unbiased views of every corner of a hotel room or related facility. Ikea’s Place app for testing how furniture looks in a room before it’s purchased has significantly helped to create awareness of AR and demonstrated its usefulness. Just think where this will go.
From a business perspective, useful VR, AR and MR is becoming extremely useful in many ways, such as helping doctors to perform complex operations, engineers to conduct maintenance and military personnel to be trained in warfare. These technologies can also help to promote non profit-raising donations, by putting the viewer into the position of disadvantaged people across the world. Brands are rapidly getting on board and using VR and AR to drive new revenue, provide unique experiences around products and services, and build new levels of consumer engagement.
VR and AR are just around the corner from being the new normal.
The future’s so bright that we’ve got to wear shades – or more appropriately, a pair of HoloLens smart glasses.