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A Look Back at Virtual Reality in 2019

A slightly comprehensive list of virtual reality highlights in 2019.

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Books

2019 was the year of virtual reality books. Augmented Human, Marketing New Realities, and The History of the Future.

I joined the VR Book Club. The first book: Augmented Human by Helen Papagiannis. Papagiannis describes augmented reality as reaching through the glass and melting “into the background so that we can engage in human moments.”

Everyone says augmented reality is still five years out at least. However, Papagiannis tells us “we are well overdue to revisit what AR is and what it can become…” Combined with artificial intelligence, machine learning, and the Internet of Things, AR can start to be used today. In fact, some believe augmented reality is being overlooked. That we use it today more than we know.

In 2019, authors started incorporating augmented reality into their books. Design Thinking and STEM consultant, Amanda Fox, releasedTeaching Land. Teaching Land incorporates augmented reality to engage her readers beyond the text of the book. Also this year, Charlie Fink, author, XR consultant, and Speaker, published Convergence How The World Will Be Painted With Data. Scan his book with your phone to watch Fink come to life.

Podcasts

Virtual reality podcasts are popping up everywhere! I talked about a few of my favorite episodes about virtual reality earlier this year. Since then, more channels have appeared dedicated to the subject of immersive technology.

In no particular order, here are some of the top podcasts about virtual reality.

See an awesome VR podcast I missed? Let me know in the comments!

Entertainment

The Lion King remake grossed nearly $1.7 Billion dollars was directed and filmed in virtual reality.

To access the set the crew wore virtual reality headgear, which brought them into whatever location and scene the production was shooting that day, be it Pride Rock, elephant graveyards, or the African savannah. Each “set” was a 360 degree virtual reality space, similar to a video game in which you can have your character walk around freely. Every crew member was represented in the VR set by an avatar (EW describes them looking like “humanoid ball things”). Favreau was represented by a blue avatar. The technology included a hand controller that allowed each user to walk around the space, but mobility on the VR set could defy gravity. Favreau, for instance, could float in the sky and look down at a setting like Pride Rock.

via Zach Sharf, IndieWire

Imagine flying around Google Earth to then see whole film crews making a movie in the Savannah!

When “shooting” finally begins, camera movements are encoded onto video, and there’s even a little virtual video village where other crew members in the VR volume can watch what’s happening.

via Marc Snetiker, Entertainment Weekly

Facebook bought the studio behind Beat Saber, Beat Games. Beat Games is one of the most successful VR game studios, with more than 1 million copies of Beat Saber sold.

The Movie, Gemini Man digitally recreated 23 year old Will Smith.

Bigscreen released a new service, Bigscreen Cinema to offer 2D and 3D screenings of popular movies.

Education

Walmart used 17,000 Oculus Go headsets for training its employees in the customer service department. Similarly, the U.S. Army has been using Microsoft HoloLens technology to offer soldiers real-time updates on their environment.

Amanda Fox got technical on Twitter when she shared her VR Sequence format for instructional design for virtual reality.

Colleges explore VR and AR with faculty and students like Grand Valley’s tech showcase.

Give me the numbers

In January 2019, Jesse Schell, CEO of Schell Games, guessed Facebook would sell 1 million quests in 2019. His guess wasn’t the only one at 1 million. Projections by SuperData, estimated 1.3 millions Quests would sell in 2019.

In October 2019, new research from SuperData revealed, “only 180,000 units of the Quest headset were sold… from the beginning of July to September 30 [2019].” These are interesting numbers because Facebook sold out of the Oculus Quest.

Tech Advances

Facebook introduced hand tracking at Oculus Connect 6.

Microsoft patents VR technology.

Apple AR glasses are coming.

VR gets social or does it?

In September, Facebook announced it’s new social VR platform, Horizon. The announcement triggered a flurry of hypothesis grandiose visions of the future.

Ryan Schultz, social VR blogger, created a new Facebook account (after deleting his old one and swearing off Facebook)to access the early Beta.

Ashley Hoffman, Inbound Marketing Strategist at A Brave New agency, shared her thoughts on Horizon from an advertising perspective. She says in her post, “… beyond just the creative and social potential of Horizon, I’m excited about this as a marketer, as well. Of course, Facebook wouldn’t be the Facebook we all know and ‘love’ today without its ads. So it’s only a matter of time before they really start capitalizing upon users’ time spent in-game.”

Navah Berg, social VR expert, predicted there will be many different ways Facebook can make money in Horizon. She said on Twitter, “I think the best way to have ads in social VR will be the same as movies + how they use product placement. With Libra it will be easy to set up all in VR.”

In December Facebook announced it will now use Oculus accounts linked to Facebook to collect data for ads (available to marketers platform wide).

Culture

“As with all major tech transitions, it starts with business adoption then goes to mass consumers…VR will be no different.”

Alvin Graylin, China President at HTC

Prominent people in VR like Alex Chaucer and Ryan Schultz lament on social VR. They wonder if “the lights have gone out” and the social VR companies are failing. Why is social VR the “make it or break it” factor for virtual reality? Can’t it be a success as an enterprise tool, art medium, and educational assist?

Alvin Graylin, China President at HTC wrote on LinkedIn, “As with all major tech transitions, it starts with business adoption then goes to mass consumers…VR will be no different.”

I have to agree with Graylin. Every year is an uptick in VR adoption. The Oculus Quest is sold out and isn’t set to start shipping until February 2020. think social VR means virtual reality caught on to consumers. Virtual reality is on it’s way to being part of our daily lives.

However, we also live in the age of digital minimalism. Tim Ferriss shared his digital detox status on Twitter. Phones are released with screen timers and “wellness” apps. People are realizing the influence of technology on their lives, and that it’s not necessarily a good thing.

That’s a big obstacle for virtual reality to overcome. How does a technology that inherently closes you off from reality and transports you to another dimension, compete with the idea that we need a time out from our phones?

Not only that, Facebook is the largest maker of VR headsets and they have the most anticipated (at least in the VR space) virtual, social platform (Horizon). It will be interesting to see what happens.

Facebook is gaining users globally but losing users in the United States, specifically in the key 12- to 34-year-old group, this according to a survey conducted by Edison Research. About 15 million people in the United States have left Facebook. I left Facebook in the beginning of the year and have no intention of going back. Even for virtual reality.

This month, Facebook confirmed my thoughts about monetizing Facebook Horizon by releasing a statement that Oculus users who link their Facebook accounts data will be used for advertisements.

Shocker.

Ryan Schultz seemed suprised and saddened by this news. He decided to create a new Facebook account after deleting his original account of 13 years so he could apply for the Horizon beta.

Since reading The History of the Future, I’m not surprised at all. I expected this. Facebook did the same thing to WhatsApp. What was originally a closed, encrypted messaging app will now be opened up for advertising.

I wrote about my concerns about virtual reality data being used for evil while reading Marketing New Realities. There is so much of our bio-metric data out there and maps of where we use the headsets, who knows what these companies are capturing and selling. We need to understand that better and VR companies need to build trust with their users.


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Featured Photo by Stella Jacob on Unsplash

4 replies on “A Look Back at Virtual Reality in 2019”

I was saddened, but not terribly surprised, by the newly-announced, tighter integration between Oculus VR hardware and the Facebook social network. Facebook is going to use all the tools and tactics at its disposal to deliver its users’ data to advertisers.

Liked by 1 person

Yup, I have to agree with you here. I think the integrations will become more interesting especially since Facebook has started building their own operating system.
I thought this was an interesting quote from the TechCrunch article, ‘“We really want to make sure the next generation has space for us,” says Facebook’s VP of Hardware.’ But who will Facebook leave room for?

Also, I saw on LinkedIn today that Facebook has paused putting ads on WhatsApp because they haven’t figured out a good way to do it. Interesting times ahead!

Like

Outstanding recap of the year and what amazing experiences you have captured! Thank you for consolidating in a list of reflections and key learnings – and of course your visit to the Technology Showcase at GVSU. Happy New Year!

Liked by 1 person

Happy New Year Eric! Thank you for the lovely comment.
Every year things get more interesting for VR as the industry evolves. I’m looking forward to what that will mean for the GV Tech Showcase! 🙂

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