Will AR and VR go mainstream or fall flat on its virtual face?

Written by on August 3, 2016 in Opinion with 0 Comments

man umbrellaYou know that something has either gone mainstream or is being blown along by the hype of all time when you can buy it for £20 if your fuel costs more than £40. Yes, Virtual Reality (VR) goggles are now available at all good Esso stations. £20.

You also know that people are banking (literally) on something becoming the ‘next big thing’ when companies attract $1.4 billion in investment without having built anything. Yes, Magic Leap (of faith? In the dark?) has attracted this much for its Augmented Reality (AR) um, something.

The question – or perhaps ‘a’ question – is this: ‘will we, in 20 years’ time, look back (presumably via some AR or VR embedded chip) on the Oculus Rift with the same fondness as us old people look back on the Macintosh 512?’ You know, the one with the tiny, square screen, available in grey, or grey. The one where you had to insert the system disk, and then swop it for the application disk? Yes, dear Microsoft, it was indeed possible to put a word processing application onto a 512 disk, with room to spare for the documents as well.

Or will AR and VR be a distant, shudder-filled memory?

Clearly, many companies are investing huge amounts of money in it. Google, Apple and Facebook are all far advanced with their designs and plans. People like Mark Zuckerberg are calling it ‘potentially the next computing platform’. Examples are trotted out. Some make sense – training, education, product design, games – others twist the mind in strange ways.

Are we looking at technology advances simply because technology, well, advances?

One worrying theme is that there are some drug related descriptions emerging about the technology. Mark Zuckerberg says that current VR games are ‘the gateway drug for VR’, and he also says that he hasn’t really got his head around where AR and VR are going. He just knows they are going, and that they are going to be big. His VR team was 400 strong. Now they won’t tell us how big it is. Sometimes his thinking seems to go along the lines that ‘text was first, photos are richer, photos are rich, video is richer, so, um, a completely virtual world is richer still’. Some of his examples surf the edge of madness. It is almost as if he sees Facebook posts being posted within, or via, VR, and friends liking them and commenting on them ‘in the same room’. Only not.

One industry observer looks at AR as ‘legalised LSD’. Why, people ask him? Because you can experience things that otherwise you only could experience if you were on LSD.

And this is a good thing?

Back to the fact that Facebook and others are betting large parts of their farms on the technology. Apple, being Apple, will probably have the slickest design, so stands a decent chance of getting or keeping the Apple disciples (yet, what of Apple Watch, that was meant to be the coolest thing). Apple also knows how to make devices, at scale. And, for the first time, Facebook is planning on building consumer hardware, which is the hardest game to make money at, and getting harder.

There will be niches where this technology is useful, in parts of many enterprises. There will be games and experience orientated entertainment where VR will be cool (but, for goodness sake, how long have 3D glasses been around, versus how many films are made in 3D)?

Back to the question. Is AR and (or) VR really the ‘next big thing?’ Or are we simply doomed to watch a generation of Pokemon Go rip offs flash past our eyes and for Facebook to fall flat on its virtual face?

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About the Author

About the Author: Alex was Founder and CEO of the Global Billing Association (GBA), a trade body focused on the communications sector. He is a sought after speaker and chairman at leading industry conferences, and is widely published in communications magazines around the world. Until it closed, he was Contributing Editor, OSS/BSS for Connected Planet. He is publisher of DisruptiveViews and previously BillingViews. .

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