Serious Insights Virtual Reality Digest: April 5, 2016 – Will bad reviews kill VR before it gets started?

Serious Insights Virtual Reality Digest: April 5, 2016 – Will bad reviews kill VR before it gets started?

Serious Insights Virtual Reality Digest: April 5, 2015

written by Principal Analyst, Daniel W. Rasmus

Will bad reviews kill VR before it gets started?

Will bad reviews kill VR before it gets startedAfter all the hype, that title paraphrases some of post-Oculus review commentary as not unexpected negative reviews get posted. First of all, there are no bad reviews being posted that provide additional insight not already covered by those of us who have been writing about VR over the last year or more. Common issues include limited movement, “screen door effect,” tripping over cables, fogged up optics, pricey set-ups, having enough clear room to set-up a VR space (and having that space protected from children and pets,) and a lack of apps beyond games, and not much content beyond passive videos. Analysts and other pundits said that is how it would be, and that is how it is.

That realization may disappoint those who refused to read reviews and reports ahead of receiving their headset because they didn’t want spoilers, but I think that’s a very small group of people. Like those who joined early personal computing groups, people buying the initial version of any VR set-up will likely know what to expect. Some will grouse, some will abandon and some will dig in and help take the technology to the next level. Out among the first Oculus users is a future Oculus competitor and plenty who will be inspired to create some software we aren’t expecting that will fuel VR—something that couldn’t be delivered without it.

I visited Mountain View’s Computer History Museum a couple of weeks ago and was reminded just how primitive computing was, and in some ways, still is. VR is a perfect example of how far we still need to go despite our very real ability to produce what to engineers in the 1950s and 60s would consider miracles to some, and science fiction to others.

Apple I personal computer. Retailed for $666.66 (about $2,633 in 2015 dollars which is actually about $400 more than an high-end Oculus Rift with PC bundle) Image via Ed Uthman - originally posted to Flickr as Apple I Computer via Wikipedia
Apple I personal computer. Retailed for $666.66 (about $2,633 in 2015 dollars which is actually about $400 more than an high-end Oculus Rift with PC bundle) Image via Ed Uthman – originally posted to Flickr as Apple I Computer via Wikipedia

First version products are meant to intrigue, to challenge and to inspire. They aren’t meant for mass market uptake—any time that has happened as been a fluke. The real thing to watch is for alternative software that challenges Oculus and Valve. Once these early units are deployed a lot of reverse engineering will be taking place. The hardware in some ways is easy. Screens are cheap, sensors are cheap, as are optics and other components. If Samsung can sell Gear VR for $99 (which is the same price as many much less capable Cardboard knock offs) as a complement to their phones, then the hardware can and will be conquered by others.

I would suspect by CES 2017 we will be hearing about the year VR becomes real, not because a couple of early products are shipping, but because along the edges of the conference, and in the backrooms, dozens of companies will be showing competitive hardware prototypes along with alternative operating systems, and a few will be demoing versions of software that will get people to say, “now, that’s what I wanted VR for!”

And while all of this is going on, those looking at VR for the enterprise will be funding vendors to grind out code to meet some very specific needs. The vendors will generalize as they learn, and create a market for VR that will change how people work, and in the meantime, reduce the costs and risk of making other products, while increasing the quality of products or the services.

Ivan Sutherland's experimental 3D display, Harvard University, 1968
Ivan Sutherland’s experimental 3D display, Harvard University, 1968

I lived through the start-up of the era of personal computing. I did so first with a Sinclair ZX81, then a Radio Shack Model III with 48K or RAM and a cassette recorder. I personally updated that machine to include two 184K disk drives. When I swapped it for my 128K Mac with two 400 drives, I thought I would never need another computer. That’s where we are with VR, at the edge of a state-shift where everything is expensive and what you get is pretty damn good, but it will look primitive and archaic by the time the industry turns ten, then twenty.

Radio Shack TRS-80 Model III. 1980.
Radio Shack TRS-80 Model III. 1980. Price as shown $2,495 in 1980 dollars.

In the end it will all be about the software, and many developers will realize that everything is data, and how they deliver interesting data experiences will span across AR and VR. They will figure out how to create worlds or augmentation based on the same content, and that will translate into rich VR and useful, even entertaining AR. The Rift and the Vive will give people a place to play and innovation will come from that play.

So will a few bad reviews tank VR? Nope. Bad reviews didn’t stop Batman vs. Superman from doing record box office, and they aren’t going to stop the next computing platform from staking out its territory. Those who buy early products or attend poorly reviewed movies know what they are getting into—and they do it anyway because the moments of excitation and insight more than make up for the boring bit. Importantly, those moments inspire people to help co-create the next context, the improved next step. String incremental improvements together and we get a step function. How big the steps at this point is anybody’s guess.

Steve Wozniak and Palmer Luckey: Virtual Reality, Yes. Augmented Reality, Not Yet., Re/code

Serious Insights Commentary: A far ranging conversation about AR, VR, privacy and space exploration. Worth the watch.

Long-term effects of virtual reality use need more research, say scientists, HITC

Serious Insights Commentary: Absolutely. The industry has already realized that whatever learning came out of previous VR research, both for applications and health, isn’t very relevant to current hardware and experiences. After all the years with televisions and mobile devices, some extrapolations can be made, and most suggest while not completely healthy if it extends sedentary habits, it probably won’t cause great harm, but may cause occasional discomfort. That said, let the research begin.

Can virtual reality cure phobias?, The Guardian

Serious Insights Commentary: If confronting our nightmares helps us understand and overcome them, then yes, VR can be a tool for use in confronting the irrational. It can be used in a safe environment with supervision, and its a lot less costly than bringing in a pit of snakes or trekking to the edge of cliff. The brain however, will likely react as if you are actually experiencing those situations. VR is showing some usefulness in treating PTSD, so it might also help people who are afraid to fly.

Five Ways Virtual Reality Is Reshaping Industries, Fast Company

Serious Insights Commentary: another list of interesting business applications. If you get worried that VR/AR isn’t going in anywhere, read these lists. If the lists are the same six months or a year from now, then worry. I doubt they will be.

Training room goes virtual: Appzion startup uses augmented reality to guide workers, OCRegister

Serious Insights Commentary: The company looks poised to do some interesting things. It’s all about the software. There list of customers is also interesting, and very different from the Fast Company list above.

“Among Appzion’s half-dozen or so clients are a warehouse logistics company, a security guard agency, and others in real estate and facilities maintenance. Its services are priced based on the number of employees, amount of use and the type of hardware selected by the client.”

SteamVR recreates your PC desktop in virtual reality, Engadget

Serious Insights Commentary: As with Envelop VR, which is focused on delivering current enterprise app experiences in VR, these desktop are just a start. Steam, of course, wants people to bring their games into VR. Envelop not only wants to bring in 2D traditional apps, but to extend them and create a platform for net new apps. Given current technology, resolution is going to be an issue for fine details, so looking at games with big controls and little text is a good place to start. The evolution of desktops inside of VR is going to be a good proxy for ways around the screen door effect. It is also likely this will be an area for user interface innovation, with a variety of approaches being offered.

Augmented Reality Startup Daqri Acquires Hologram Maker To Take On Microsoft HoloLens, Forbes

Serious Insights Commentary: This article is important not because of the technology, but because it hints at the development of a market with secondary acquisitions (an AR vendor buying a software vendor to enhance its products is very different than Facebook buying Oculus to kickstart their portfolio).

Toyota patents augmented-reality windshield, CNET

Serious Insights Commentary: Heads-up displays aren’t new. My Cadillac ATS has one. It also has other augmented reality features, like sensors that cause haptic motors in the driver’s seat to nudge the driver when crossing a line. I turned it off because the bike lanes in my neighborhood are way too wide. I wasn’t sleeping, just staking out territory. This is, however, a place where AI will meet AR, but the real question as a scenario planner is this: will augmenting  human driving end up making driverless cars unnecessary, or will it be the primary way that future drivers play nice with each other, the driving environment and driverless cars? The auto industry sits at the convergence of many technologies and is a good place to monitor not only real progress, but deep progress as it involves insurance, state and local laws and products with long design cycles (which hopefully AR and VR can shorten).

Virtual reality opening up new job possibilities, WQAD.com

Serious Insights Commentary: Heads up curriculum committee. If you haven’t met with your local VR start-up, you probably aren’t teaching your students skills in the technologies they will need to prosper in VR and AR jobs. You can’t just teach Unreal or Unity, you have to teach low level coding at the GPU and CPU level to optimize code. It’s all about the frame rate.

Augmented reality and virtual reality in FM, Construction Week Online

Serious Insights Commentary: It’s all about exploring data in new ways. Models are just data, and the ability to move yourself (in VR you become one with the data) into the model space rather than imagining it from a 2D plane trying to represent 3D is a major shift for designers and architects.

Utah police may soon practice de-escalation in virtual reality, Salt Lake Tribune

Serious Insights Commentary: This is a great example where VR can create situations that are uncommon, unsafe or high risk and allow people to learn from situations that might otherwise be relegated to reading or lecture.

How Far Can Old Media Take New Virtual Reality?, Investor’s Business Daily

Serious Insights Commentary: Trying to tap Millennials? Of course, but this article hints at an issue it never addresses, the content itself. The first example is putting people inside a Paul McCartney concert. Not a Millennial place to be (at least for most). Passive VR is fine the first few times, but then people want to do something. VR streaming will be a flash in the pan. VR interaction, both virtual and real, is going to be the driver.

How virtual, augmented reality helps NASA explore space, The Pasadena Star-News

NASA VR display at CES 2016
NASA VR display at CES 2016

Serious Insights Commentary: NASA has always been the best agency for envisioning, and delivering, practical futures. They have learned to live within constraints economically, technologically and politically. VR is a perfect tool for driving down engineering costs, marketing possibilities and demonstrating something cool that is actually also useful to those in space. NASA and VR were made for each other (and in many ways if you look at the history of VR, they actually were).

Daniel W. Rasmus

Daniel W. Rasmus, Founder and Principal Analyst of Serious Insights, is an internationally recognized speaker on the future of work and education. He is the author of several books, including Listening to the Future and Management by Design.

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