This is the year of Virtual Reality (VR), the buzz, the investments, the tons of exhibitions, events, the headlines about the VR space heating up.
From my relatively short experience on both sides of the industry helping to grow an already successful VR real estate company and setting up a VR/Augmented Reality (AR) incubator and co-working space in London, I can see a few fundamentals for VR applications success or failure. (My main focus here is on non-gaming apps and high quality headsets such as the Oculus or HTC Vive.)
I will start with the VR content first and then move on to the cost and finish with the most important part: how VR is delivered or accessed by the users.
The Importance Of Content:
First of all regarding the content itself or VR B2B2C apps (not gaming, although some principles do also apply here), the VR/AR experience must supersede the real one. It should provide an experience which is better than in real life without compromise.
Let’s take the example of a property virtual showroom: it is competing with physical showings where people can walk around, touch furniture, visit as a group, switch lights on, open cabinets, etc.
If the virtual experience cannot offer body tracking and therefore true mobility but just the use of a controller, then that’s just ruining the experience already (adding the fact of the elevated risk of nausea). Also, there must more than one user in the virtual space otherwise you are already offering a lower quality experience. Take the example of the multiplayer gaming app, which has been described as one of the first VR killer apps: it has social immersion through multiple players as well as room scale body tracking, two very important principles for a successful VR app.
Lastly, the level of immersion must be on par with the reality by being able to interact with objects: grab them, give them to another person, move them, have furniture with movable parts, etc. If the VR space is static and cannot be interacted with in detail, then it will just disappoint greatly.
Regarding superseding the real experience or real world: VR offers the design of worlds beyond the reality and close to dreams. It allows for the user to change the space as they visit it. Here the quality must also be higher than in real life to fully satisfy the senses.
As VR ages and matures, users will also become familiar with common VR tools available within successful VR apps and shared between apps through APIs for example; think for example of Tiltbrush (a VR 3D sculpting/painting app from Google) available in a home decoration VR app. It is therefore important to make the VR experience user friendly and easy to use or use APIs or UX from commonly known VR tools to ensure users are comfortable within the experience to be fully satisfied.
The Importance Of Cost:
For B2B2C apps, the VR/AR offering must represent a meaningful saving compared to the real solution, if not at least in money terms it must offer it in lead-time to production. Taking the example again of VR Property Showrooms solutions to showcase off-plan new properties: it costs on average 10 times less than physical showrooms and takes 15 days to design a fully interactive VR showroom, compared to months to build physical ones.
Only significant savings (on par with delivering high quality content as per the previous section) can make the VR proposition relevant (that is of course excluding any VR content which goes well beyond what is possible in real life).
The Importance Of Access:
Finally, and most importantly, is how VR is accessed by the public and delivered. This is currently through a gaming PC with high specifications and connecting a high quality VR head mounted display (HMD).
This certainly cannot reach the mass market. In my opinion a way to enable this in the mid term (3-5 years) would be (TV) media boxes. When you look at the level of sophistication of the latest higher end boxes such as the SKY-Q one in the UK or Tivo in the US, one could well imagine a mid term future where the next boxes could have enough GPU & CPU (Graphic & Computer) power to be able to plug and play VR HMDs. It would therefore result in a partnership between the setup box network and the VR hardware company as well as the content platform.
Gaming PCs cannot reach the mass market and media boxes instead could, especially on the cost point: they are mixing (monthly) subscription with a lower hardware purchase cost. As a result it would be much easier to sell the VR package this way whilst the setup would be much easier for the customer; the same as a Nintendo Wii or home cinema audio regarding installing the sensors / planning the space.
The gaming PC route is great for getting started to improve the hardware, the User Experience, the User Interface, the quality of the content and its design. But I really hope that media broadcasters and VR hardware makers have started talking to each other in order to bring VR to everyone.
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