The title of this post is from Alex Chaucer who tweeted out the question, “is 2019 was the year the lights went out for VR?”
Chaucer clarified that “High Fidelity, Sansar, Oculus Rooms, and Facebook Spaces are shutting down or shifting away from VR.”
I thought this would make a great post to break down what’s going on with virtual reality, what others in the industry had to say about it, and my thoughts for the future of VR.
Is 2019 the Year the Lights Went Out in VR?
No, it’s not.
First, all the VR companies mentioned in Chaucer’s Tweet are social VR apps. High Fidelity is owned by the makers of Second Life, Sansar is Sansar. Oculus Rooms and Spaces are both Facebook owned social VR apps. Plus, Facebook announced at Oculus Connect 6 that it’s shutting these apps down and focusing on their new social VR platform, Facebook Horizon.
Ryan Schultz, a prominent social VR figure, posted that he thinks High Fidelity is doomed in general.
Just because social VR is struggling doesn’t mean the whole industry is. Virtual reality is taking off in the enterprise, education, healthcare, and entertainment. I think people keep a close watch on social VR as an indicator of consumer adoption.
Where is virtual reality succeeding?
I predicted that 2019 would see continued investment from the enterprise into virtual reality. The enterprise has the needs extended reality (XR) solutions can meet and they have money to invest in the technology.
Microsoft Hololens, HTC Vive, and Magic Leap all have enterprise specific solutions. Microsoft Director, Mike Walton, spoke at FABTECH about different ways manufacturers use the Hololens.
This month, Magic Leap dropped a video of their enterprise applications. Rony Abovitz, founder and CEO of Magic Leap, “was how surprised he was by how active and “leaning in” he has found the enterprise market in general.”
I like to keep going back to the questions posed in Bachir Zeroual’s 2016 presentation at VR Day Atlanta.
- Did we see true born for VR content? ✔️
- Did we establish the VR category? ✔️
- Did we drive adoption of 360 video? ❌
- Did we create a habit? ❌
Did we drive adoption of 360 video?
That being said, at Thanksgiving my family asked where my 360 camera was for group photo. Darn, I thought. This would have been the perfect time to have it. But hey, at least they asked!
Did we create a habit?
This is where we have not yet succeeded with virtual reality. To borrow from Ryan Scultz’s post,
An hour in the metaverse needs to be better thanVia @danacowley on Twitter
– an hour on Facebook
– an hour on Instagram
– an hour on Twitter
– an hour on YouTube
– an hour on Netflix
– an hour in Fortnite
– an hour in anything we have now
In 2016 the average American looked at their phone 46 times a day. In 2016 headsets were bulky and many cheap enough for everyday people depended on smart phones. We thought smart phones could be the driving force behind VR.
Now we have cost affordable, standalone headsets. I wrote in 2016, ” What will help to make VR sticky is if we start to create experiences only VR can bring to life.”
Make VR social
I thought in 2019 virtual would be more social. How do you include a room full of people or a group of friends in a virtual reality game if they only have one headset? It looks like Facebook is working on this problem in these leaked photos of upcoming product features.
Magic Leap also has the right idea with their co-presence application, Jump.
Turn on the lights, one switch at a time
I scrolled through Charlie Fink’s December 6th “This Week In XR” column thinking to myself, “as long as I’m watching videos of VR game play on my laptop, virtual reality hasn’t made it.” You’d think a video of VR game play would at least be filmed in 360 degrees! Doesn’t seem like the Marketing department is thinking in 3D yet.
The lights did not go out for VR in 2019. They just haven’t all turned on yet. If you judge the success of virtual reality based on consumer adoption you may be disappointed as “we’re in the thick of winter for consumer-grade VR headsets.”
Virtual reality has a long ways to go in terms of price, comfort, safety, and convenience. That doesn’t mean they won’t get there. Enterprise companies continue adoption of virtual and augmented reality solutions. Virtual reality headsets made their way into TV shows. Investors continue to hedge their bets on immersive reality companies.
VR people say that virtual reality headsets need to be like smartphones. They need to be light, convenient, and easy to use. The iPhone wasn’t built in a day. It is one of technology invented, patient creators waiting for the hardware to catch up, the funding to be there, until “poof”! The unveiling of the iPhone.
Virtual reality has a bigger challenge because consumers have an idea of what good VR should be. They know in virtual reality, they can be anything and go anywhere. Creators have the challenge of reaching those high expectations. I think we’ll get there, one light switch at at time.