VR: What’s going on?
Technology has evolved from a point of just supplying users with compute power and making them write their own code, to delivering personal computers with graphical interfaces, and a mouse and keyboard to interact with the screen. Today, we walk around with smartphones in our pockets and tap icons on a screen to trigger a variety of functions.
In many ways, these developments have transformed our relationship with technology. Our interactions have become increasingly natural i.e. similar to how we interact with objects in the natural world.
VR takes this to the next level. We now experience realities in ways that were never possible before. With our mobile phones, the digital world is part of our natural reality; with VR, the natural reality becomes a part of the almost infinite digital world.
Leveraging this technology, content and app creators can now build experiences that capture the complete attention of the user, a dream for companies that monetize engagement. It’s no surprise then that Facebook got into VR as early as they did, through a $2 billion acquisition of Oculus. Today, they offer a wide variety of VR headsets, each with a different application.
However, for everything we read about VR in the news, it is still a fairly underdeveloped market. Most people will admit to never having tried VR before, and the ones that have tried it are usually referring to VR in a mobile headset. In fact, despite their leading position in the VR hardware race, they are yet to build a platform or killer app that can change consumer behavior.
In our view, the first wave of VR apps that gain traction will be those that utilize existing 2D content (like that on Facebook, Netflix or YouTube) and bring people together to consume it. While the Oculus Go, a $2000 standalone device was initially built for gaming, Facebook soon found that people spend more time inside media applications: Netflix, BigScreen, YouTube are the most used apps. This is no surprise given that quality content is the main reason people return to use apps or services. While these apps are built for VR, the essentially just deliver flat-screen format (non-VR) content on a large display and enable users to watch TV or movies on an IMAX-sized large screen. Often these apps are social: you can watch videos with someone across the country without you two being in the same physical location.
Eventually, the promise of VR lies in its ability to let everyone, wherever they are, experience the world as they want it. It will bring people into a shared space thereby enabling them to enjoy a real-life activity–watching TV, exploring a museum, reviewing a presentation, drawing in 3D together or playing monopoly on a life-sized board–together. We will be able to have deeper social interactions in the digital world, and go places without actually moving.
It will improve our lives for the better.