Hacking together a VR experience* to see firsthand what’s involved, revealed just how close we are to something great, but there are five areas that need to fall into place for VR to become a technology we all use daily.
The medium needs to be defined
As I started to think about the kind of immersive experience to create, I realized that I didn’t even know how to think about the right way to tell a story in VR. For instance, how long should the “story” be? What would be considered important?
As an engineer, I rarely considered something like the best point of view for the camera. With VR, that’s a critical part of the experience.
Creating something for VR is less of a technical problem than it is a creative and visual challenge. Additionally, the ability to create 3D models for VR stories is going to be one of the most highly sought after skills in the world in the next 10 years. As a reference point, think how different our current era is from the early days of the Internet, when we used things like FTP and Gopher. That’s the stage where we are with VR.
VR interaction needs to be improved
VR has immersive visuals and great VR content has incredible sound design. But even though your body feels like it’s somewhere else, how are we supposed to interact with that world? And how is the VR world supposed to interact with us and provide feedback?
Using a mouse, keyboard, or game pad to navigate the virtual world makes for a terrible user experience. It completely severs the connection between your mind and (virtual) body. Beyond basic input so much more has to be solved with regard to tactile input and output, full body motion, the sense of smell, and temperature.
The list goes on and on for the things that must get fixed to avoid breaking the VR experience.
The fear factor must pass
Although people accept that we’re in the early stages of the VR era, some folks are warning about unhealthy escapism that will remove us further from reality to the point where we are dangerously disconnected from the real word.
I get it, but aren’t we already there? Go to the mall and you’ll see people of all ages and backgrounds, with their heads down staring at their phones. Do they know what’s going on around them? Doubtful. Then again, the human species often doesn’t understand the consequences of what it invents until decades later.
When the fear factor kicks in, just consider this: We’re only a decade into the mobile phone age and it probably will take another 25 years to know what we really did to ourselves.
Portability needs to become the norm
My friend Chris Fralik is entirely right when he explains why mobile will win the VR race. The mobile phone represents the easiest and fastest VR platform.
I’m not just talking about using smartphones to demo VR, but also as the best way to get the largest number of people to use VR daily. I am impatient for Moore’s law to eliminate the need to be tethered to a desktop computer.
The barrier of entry has to be eliminated
Investors ought to pay close attention. The big breakout for VR isn’t here yet, but we’re getting close. By the end of 2016, estimates are that more than 10 million people will be using VR. If startups can build rich experiences that users can access through their phones, the numbers will soar faster than anyone can predict.
I’m hopeful that the market will get a boost from major manufacturers like Apple or Samsung including a Cardboard-like viewer with every smartphone they sell, and more cardboard viewer giveaways occur.
There’s obviously a lot of work ahead before we get to the VR promised land, and after that to AR nirvana, but the promise is undeniable.
Imagine the possibilities once humans are freed from the confines of physical space and can connect with anyone anywhere in the world. After all, there’s a good reason why Mark Zuckerberg paid $2 billion to buy Oculus.
*I hope to repeat this exercise for AR in 2016, as platforms were not yet ready.