The start of a new year always heralds a host of "looking back/looking forward" pieces in the media. In just the last 24 hours I've heard virtual reality crop up on a couple of big media "What's Big in 2016" articles, one on BBC News and another in the Guardian. Just a quick Google search yields:
- BBC CES Preview - VR is one of their picks
- New Statesman - VR not there, but AI is
- Forbes/Gartner - VR not there, but machine learning and autonomous systems are
- Wall Street Journal - VR gets top billing
- CNBC - Yep, VR there
- USA Today - CES preview, VR not there (but the SmartBra is!)
- Information Week - CES preview, reporting that "the virtual reality space is 80% larger than last year", larger than robots or smart cars!
- CBS News - VR there
- Guardian - VR there
- The Telegraph - VR headlining
So 70% of the lists have VR as one of their tech items to watch. Of course the build up of the hype around Oculus Rift (and by extension "modern" VR) has been quite something, and the release of Google Cardboard and its clones, whilst making VR actually more accessible, has almost been sidelined in the wait for the holy grail of the Oculus Rift. With the latest reports still suggesting a Q1 launch (but without a firm date, and probably without the controllers), and a price tag that is drifting up not down ($500/£500?), you get no sense that 2016 will see a tidal wave of VR adoption. Yes more people will get to try it, some (tens, maybe hundreds, of thousands?) gamers may actually buy it, but this is still a long, long way from mainstream. The biggest challenge is that using a VR headset for an extended length of time is still not something that most people will be happy with. Its great for that 2-3 minute "oh wow this is amazing" experience - so great for marketeers or to build engagement in education, but to spend an hour or so in there is not just a mental challenge, but a real physical risk from wrapped cables and bumping into things and even falling over- it's hardly surprising that most real world use cases of people using VR for any length of time also appear to have a support crew on stand-by!
To get really widespread adoption this need not only to be simple and cheap (so more Cardboard than Rift - I can see shades of VHS/Betamax), but to have killer content that people want (which always seems to lag technology by a few years), and above all a use case (from duration or environment) that is safe.
We're firm believers in VR, but we see the current technology crop as just one more (positive) step forward on the path to Caprica's Holobands...