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Why VR May Be A Castle Built On Sand

Thriving on hype is a short-term success, and if VR technology fails to create a fully competitive market, chances for survival are low

13Mar

Even though in the last couple of years we could see the rise of VR and AR 'first wave' hardware and applications, it's still difficult to say how much of the commercial potential is hidden in mixed realities. However, there are already concerns that in the near future, the market may not have enough room for both AR and VR, where the latter may be forced to take a back seat.

The concept of AR and VR reflect each other in terms of experience, the former brings virtual objects into reality, whilst the latter takes a user to the virtual world. During their development, Facebook, HTC, and Sony managed to create some hype around their VR hardware, once the headsets were out, they undeniably took a seat in the gaming industry, but an applicability of VR across other industries remained a question.

Given the modern business landscape and increasingly picky consumers, VR developers can hardly be blamed for unrealistic adverts and images of living rooms where users are lost in their VR experience. In the real world, though, hype works until a user actually tries VR, where to enjoy your experience living rooms must be massive and the graphics are not mind-blowing. The headset may also make you nauseous and dizzy, and even with added controllers, it may not take long for users to get bored. As for professional use in industries like aviation, healthcare, and HR, the innovative feel may also wear and place VR on the same stand with other simulators and equipment, until companies come to realize that there is not enough value for the $500-$800 price tag per headset.

From the customer base perspective, the biggest challenge for any disruptive technology today is to continue getting user growth whilst attention spans are becoming shorter and interests tend to change quickly. For example, in the smartphone market, more and more people are no longer willing to change their devices as frequently as they used to. Switching from one brand to another also makes less sense simply because there are no major differences between gadgets. So, it may be the case that VR technology will achieve a certain level of usability and master their UX, but eventually, will fail to create a fully competitive market and expand beyond its limits.

According to Richard Windsor, a technology analyst and founder of Radio Free Mobile, who visited Mobile World Congress 2017 in Barcelona, the number of VR installations at the event has decreased substantially, and he told Forbes that: 'Last year, virtual reality was a novelty that everyone wanted to try, but interest has now waned as very little changed in the last 12 months.'

As for AR, things are looking bright. The technology can offer both the hardware and digital experience, where unlike with VR, there is no issue with dizziness and nausea. But foremost, with AR we are not only talking about gaming, retail, and branding opportunities. Have you ever thought about crossbreeding AR with the industrial IoT (IIoT)?

For example, if we take an early AR digital prototype like Pokemon Go, it's the consumer connectivity with smartphones that allowed for the game's created value. The next level can potentially be about enterprise connectivity, where layers of various data interpreted using AR technology can further extend its market value and blend in well with the upcoming industry 4.0. From product development and logistics to the market and end consumers, AR has the potential to providing a 'data to user interface', where the industrial world can become augmented with the large dataset.

The Chinese search giant Baidu is also exploring the potential of AR having created an AR lab where the aim is to develop new experiences that would allow for closer integration with digital. Since the launch of their platform 'DuSee', Baidu has collaborated with companies including L'oreal China, Lancome, and Mercedes-Benz. On Baidu's main app, different brands can customize user experiences using AR. Reportedly, Baidu's AR strategy is mobile-first only, whereas, there are also companies who are focussed on AR hardware.

And that's where VR may fall.

Amongst the few distinctive features that VR technology has is their headsets. Even though it's still some time until we see a high-standard user-friendly device, even at development stages, an AR lens is a better bet. From manipulating 3D objects - which can be incorporated into reality - to connecting an AR lens with smartphone applications to get one user and brand experience, the opportunities are nearly limitless.

It's still too early to say when or how exactly VR will fail. This is not going to happen in a matter of days nor will it be a fast VR market collapse. It may be the case that in the next couple of years the technology will settle in some niche sectors, and once consumer tastes evolve, VR may gradually fade away.

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