Microsoft’s Phil Spencer recently uttered his doubts in the current state of virtual reality: “I don’t think [virtual reality] is landed yet on what it is and how it’s going to go to market, but the innovation work is amazing”. Yes, the experience is fascinating, and it has the potential to change our lives in the long run. However, there are signs that it might not become quite the best-selling entertainment device as expected, but find its place in certain niche markets instead.
When a tech company came to our office and gave us a demonstration of all available VR devices – from Google Cardboard to the latest prototypes by Oculus and Samsung – there were many oohs and aahs to be heard. And indeed, whoever experiences virtual reality for the first time will most definitely be impressed. You put this ski-goggle-like device on and enter a new world around you, one that responds to the movement of your head. The difference between watching a 3D movie and being fully immersed into a virtual surrounding is immense. It will make you realize how far technology has come.
Alas, as Jared Newman from Fast Company put it: “The best and worst thing about virtual reality today is that it’s never quite as magical as when you first try it”. No matter how cutting-edge the technology is, will it really be the game changer everyone expects it to be?
The “Real Deal” Will Be a Long Time Coming
With the first consumer device being presented back in 2012, the hype around VR is only climaxing now. Unfortunately, the “real deal”, a technologically and sensorially sound device (read: a headset that doesn’t make you feel dizzy within minutes) will be a long time coming. Pioneer Oculus once again postponed the public launch of the Rift, and Sony’s Morpheus will not be released before early 2016. Will the devices meet the high expectations? Or will it go the way of the ill-fated Google Glass, which created a great buzz but never saw the light of a public release.
Even if those devices reach a satisfying level of sophistication one day, the question remains how it will change our lives. The head-mounted displays imply total immersion into the surrounding scenery, leaving no space for social interaction at all. They create a self-centered form of at-home entertainment. The Verge’s Adi Robertson is convinced that “if I have to pick between being truly immersed in a personal screening of Interstellar or being able to see my boyfriend while we’re watching it together, I’ll pick my boyfriend every time”.
It is doubtful that a tool that leaves no room for social interaction can become an indispensable device for our homes.
If increased usage of TV, Internet and smart devices already lead to social isolation, what will virtual reality do to us? By offering an alternative (and for some superior) reality, the term escapism takes on a whole new significance. According to Stanford psychiatrist Elias Aboujaoude, a life-like virtual environment will not only lead to an escape from “real life”, but also make us believe that we can recreate and change it. It is doubtful that a tool that leaves no room for social interaction can become an indispensable device for our homes.
Playing a Different Role than We Expect
If virtual reality will not be the great revolution it wants to be, why should we still be excited? Take Marketing: The complete immersion into a constructed world offers a unique means to convey brand messages on an emotional level. Beyond influencing consumers, virtual reality will also improve certain aspects of manufacturing, medical procedures, the travel industry, or education in the form of virtual classrooms. There are numerous possibilities that have the potential to affect our lives.
Virtual reality will play an important role in our future lives, but probably different from our current expectations.