Virtual reality (VR) has long been a holy grail in the computing industry. Now, this exciting technology looks set to finally hit the mainstream. How will businesses use it to excite and delight their customers?
VR uses a headset to place users in an immersive environment. Surround sound gives way to surround vision as a digital world fills your field of view everywhere you look – even behind you.
That’s difficult to achieve from a technology perspective. For decades, the computing and display technology needed for convincing VR wasn’t available. That changed when Facebook bought VR headset company Oculus, developer of the Rift headset, in 2014 for a cool $2bn.
What did Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg see in the technology? Announcing the acquisition on Facebook, he said that the initial focus would be on gaming, but expected it to develop into a new platform for communication.
“Imagine enjoying a court side seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face – just by putting on goggles in your home,” said Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.
Since then, Facebook has built an entire strategy around VR, which it hopes will enable people to meet each other in wrap-around cyberspace environments.
For now, many B2C VR apps focus on marketing, often using headsets from the likes of Samsung and Google that turn mobile devices into VR displays. Tommy Hilfiger used this platform to launch its 2016 fall runway show, while tequila maker Patron used drones equipped with 360° cameras to make a VR movie showing how its product is made.
Microsoft has followed suit with similar ideas. Plug a virtual reality headset into Windows 10 and it will now transport you to its Cliff House, a virtual reality hangout. From there, you can access games and educational software such as its stunning Holotour that lets you wonder around modern Rome with animations showing you its history and architecture.
From VR to AR
Microsoft calls its offering mixed reality. That’s because the company also supports another flavor of immersive technology that is still waiting for mainstream adoption – augmented reality (AR). This concept does away with the immersive virtual world in favor of the real one, viewed through a display that superimposes computer-generated graphics on it.
The result? Computer graphics that interact with the real world. Augmented reality can put virtual navigation guides directly on roads, or superimpose translations on text. Many of the apps are still rudimentary, but some brands are jumping on it with promising developments.
Apple has so far ignored virtual reality altogether, instead going straight for the AR market with its AR Kit technology. This has enabled developers including Ikea to enter the AR market, with a catalog called Ikea Place that lets you place and walk around virtual furniture in your home before buying. Porsche’s AR Kit-based app lets you configure your dream car as it sits virtually in front of you.
Growth potential for VR and AR
How big are these technologies likely to be? We’re still in the early stages, but interest is growing. Nielsen’s 2017 survey on the topic found that 51% of people were aware of VR/AR devices compared to just 28 percent a year prior. Research firm ARtillery Insights predicts a growth in AR and VR technologies from $4.1 billion in 2016 to $79 billion in 2021.
Which of the technologies will win out? ARtillery charted $975 million in revenues from consumer AR in 2016, compared to $1.6 billion from consumer VR. Things will shift in the next few years, though. In 2021, it forecasts a $15.8 billion market for consumer AR, vs $11.5 billion for consumer VR.
They’re both respectable markets, but AR may well have the jump on VR because of its ability to go beyond gaming and let people interact with their real-world environments in new and exciting ways. One thing’s for sure: Companies will use these technologies to create a whole new perspective on their products for customers.
About the Author
Danny Bradbury has been writing about technology and business since 1989. His clients have included the Financial Times, the Guardian, and Canada's National Post.
All content provided herein is for educational purposes only. It is provided “as is,” and neither the author nor Office Depot warrants the accuracy of the information provided, nor do they assume any responsibility for errors, omissions, or contrary interpretation of the subject matter herein.
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