Virtual Reality is a pretty magical experience under the right set of circumstances. Having tried now all of the big players in the space between Vive, Oculus, HoloLens etc, I can say without question that VR and Augmented Reality have finally broken through to the consumer.Yet I have begun to figure out some of the obstacles that are going to seriously impede adoption, and they aren’t new ones.
Let us, for a moment, skip the cost of the actual hardware and supporting hardware. Eventually this entry point will come down and it’s low hanging fruit to start there because the technology is so new. Suffice to say for the moment that it’s incredibly expensive compared to other “good enough” technologies that are focused on entertainment as the gateway for broad adoption.
Let us further for this discussion skip the virtual store/User Interface. Much like phones and operating systems this will eventually solidify when someone hits the right metaphor or construct that makes obtaining apps/games and navigating between them easy and (more or less) simple.
So let’s assume you have brought home Bob’s Amazing VR platform, and Bob’s Amazing VR platform once properly setup and connected leads you to magical experiences.
There’s a massive gap in the middle of these two things that could kill VR as dead as 3D Blu Ray, or Kinect games, or even the fact few play the Wii anymore (arguably the most successful of these technologies from a usage standpoint).
That gap is the friction involved to enter the experience.
3D Blu Ray exposed the same complaint I often heard about the Kinect: “I can’t just sit down and get into it.” First you must make sure that your Blu Ray player supports the latest firmware, your glasses are available and not in a dusty corner somewhere, they are charged and/or have fresh batteries, they are properly synced to your TV, that you have enough glasses for everyone, that the TV and the Blu Ray player are in sync on the 3D signal, that you upped the brightness on the TV to compensate for the dimming effect 3D has, and lastly that everyone has a proper viewing angle. You perform all these actions and pop in your Blu Ray only to find you accidentally popped in the non-3D copy and have to get up to go back to the case to get the 3D one. Never mind the fact the primary way you consume movies or TV now might be streaming for which there is little 3D content. Add to that, I hope you don’t get a headache from the 3D syncing.
Let’s look at Kinect. Similar problems arise. The idea of motion activated gaming seems like a winner on paper, and the Kinect sensor is a marvel of engineering. But its utility is really limited to gaming experiences for which you have to rearrange your living room, calibrate the sensor (sometimes even in between games) to properly sample the game space, and deal with situations that typically confuse the sensor like the family dog entering the space or someone in the background going to get a drink from the kitchen. A few magical moments don’t really compensate to overcome wondering if you really want to move the couch and coffee table out of the room again to play Dance Central.
The Wii managed to keep the entry to experience friction low, but content was limited to Tennis. Or Bowling.
Now let’s look at VR. Depending on how Bob designed the VR rig you at the very least have a headpiece to wear. It may or may not be tethered to a base unit that is not meant to be moved. The headsets are a long way from an uncomfortable motorcycle helmet but are also a longer ways away from feeling like no headset at all. It’s Yet Another Thing ™ you have to take the time to get right before you can experience what you want to experience. It may require calibration. The magical experience you had over at a friend’s house might be completely different because he has Joe’s Amazing VR Platform not Bob’s but you didn’t know there was a difference. Like the 3D glasses, you probably feel a little goofy wearing the setup, and your friends video’s of you flailing around on Youtube don’t really endear you to your investment. Once done with your experience you have to stow everything away, which means finding a place for the helmet and equipment.
The friction point here is time.
We’re all competing for time. Microsoft isn’t competing against Sony with the Xbox. Sony isn’t competing with Nintendo. Everyone is competing for time. Because between movies, streaming, phone games, casual games, console games, going out to dinner, reading a book, and the fact there is more quality content above the “garbage” bar than at any point in history, there is no time. So much so I’m convinced I have past the point in my life where even if the content stopped tomorrow I would not have enough hours left in my life to experience it all when combined with work, sleep, and food.
Each of the scenarios I described above involves time. And remember, we already gave a free pass to the cost of entry and the ease of accessing content. That adds even more time.
Those problems will get solved with volume and maturity. Smartphones were along long before Apple solved the entry point and ease of use problems. Technology for the moment limits VR until miniaturization can get us to a societal point that contact lenses or even simple glasses make the friction points easy. That is where VR needs to focus its user experiences.
Make your VR platform goal to make the technology as simple and easy to enter into as an iphone app or launching Netflix and VR/AR will reach it’s potential so fast “Screens” as we think of them today will be a thing of the past. It might also avoid going the way of 3D.