By Jason Friedlander, Director, Marketing Communications
When Virtual Reality (VR) started to become an actual reality, I was beyond excited about its possibilities. We would be able to create immersive experiences that viewers would never be able to replicate in real life. We could put them in the middle of an NFL game, in major battles of World War II or even on another planet. But the more I have seen of these types of experiences, the more I question the real mass appeal of VR technology and viewing experiences.
Maybe it’s because I recently read Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, and the idea of a future where people literally never go outside and just sit plugged into their system scares me. Being social is part of being human, and most VR these days is the opposite of that. A lot of companies show off demos of VR technologies where people are watching a concert or a major sporting event, but are not interacting with the people around them at all. That just doesn’t seem right to me. Sports, concerts and other live events are inherently social. I don’t see a future where users are all sitting in a room with VR headsets, watching the same game. Just imagine it: one person says “Hey, did you see that!?” but no one else did see it, because all of them were at different places in the field, looking at different things.
This is something that – let’s call them, traditional linear experiences – offer that VR just can’t: the social aspect. The forced perspective of everyone seeing the same angle of the same event creates a communal shared experience that VR can’t replicate. Yes, I know you may say that people in the stadium each see different angles, but when you are in a stadium you are already out being social surrounded by other fans, thousands of them, and a majority of the ones you are interacting with are looking at the same thing as you. VR is simply not the same, and I think that can hurt adoption in the long run.
Now don’t get me wrong, I believe the future holds very valuable use cases for VR. But I am not sure VR is something that will ever compete with the TV-like experiences we have today. I think it has a place in science and gaming. Just like 3D never caught on in the home, I believe that VR suffers the same issues. The manufacturers are pushing technology down our throat before it is even ready for adoption just to sell more equipment. And so far, customers aren’t buying it. One research firm projected in early 2016 that consumers would spend $5.1 billion on VR devices that year, but the actual revenues turned out to be $1.8 billion. VR just isn’t something people want, at least not yet.
It’s my opinion that AR is the format that will receive mass adoption, because the time and the technology are currently aligned. Let’s not forget that some of the first apps ever to be released on the iPhone used early AR technologies. However, because the phones themselves didn’t have the tech natively built in and because different apps had to be downloaded for each different experience, every time an app caught on, users got sick and tired of the pogo-sticking in and out of apps, and the fad died out quickly. This is even true of more recent AR successes. By April 2017, four out of five Pokémon Go users who’d played the game at its 2016 peak had quit.
As of the last Worldwide Developers Conference, that all changed when Apple announced the release of ARKit, which will enable the iPhone to natively display AR experiences. Finally, access to AR technology is catching up with the need! Now developers will be able to implement real AR experiences without having to invent an entire AR platform just to execute it.
The potential applications are endless. In a few years, a spectator at a live sporting event will be able to simply point his phone camera at a player and see all the player’s stats. A diner at a restaurant will aim his phone at the menu and and see the nutritional value of the food he’s about to order. Someone watching TV will get buying information about a car by pointing her phone at the commercial she’s watching.
I envision a time where the camera app is a platform all on its own, just like Messages. All these applications are simple and social. They don’t require you to download anything additional, and you can easily share your experience with others because you don’t have to be sitting on the couch with an entire camera rig hooked up to your head.
I grew up in a time where the day consisted of school, followed by a short walk or bus ride home. You’d drop off your backpack and swap it for your bike and stay outside until the streetlights came on, which then meant it was time to head home for dinner.
Today that doesn’t exist anymore; kids swap the backpack for a device and a life of shared “hermitdom” in their room as they exchange social media messages with friends instead of actually spending time with them. However, the future is filled with hope. With the rise of AR, kids will have new reasons to seek out real-live experiences and to share them face-to-face with friends, using their device as a tool for their current adventure.
AR isn’t just a cool new technology – it could end up saving us all or at least making sure we get outside a bit more.