Thursday, March 09, 2017

Virtual Reality: Not Quite There Yet

Virtual Reality has been in a holding pattern for several decades, with enthusiasts waiting for “that thing” that will finally result in widescale public adoption, and make the technology a viable commercial product. It seemed as though 2016 might be that year, when the gamut of virtual reality products ran from Cardboard (Google) to high tech helmet (Oculus Rift), but 2017 has arrived and the space still feels stagnant.

The problem with virtual reality is that the set up, and effort required, is inherently in opposition to key features of content consumption. By that, I mean that people consume media as a way to “unplug” and enjoy a catharsis of not having to follow structure, rules, and steps. To watch virtual reality, a user has to select specially produced virtual reality content (with the proper software in place), before engaging hardware and placing a phone into a VR player, putting the pieces of the player together, positioning everything correctly, and then jarring at least his head back and forth, and possibly his arms and shoulders to position the VR piece to his head.

Content consumption happens in moments of boredom and escape to the drudgery of day to day tasks. The mindless checking of Instagram and Facebook represent a more accurate representation of the triggers a consumer has to engage with content. It’s impulsive, it has to be easy, and it has to be relevant. Virtual Reality fails to meet any of these three criteria, and as such, does not represent a mode of content consumption that’s easy or desirable to engage with at a high frequency. And this high frequency is what is required if the medium will gain enough traction to become viable.

I believe that the first iterations of virtual reality that will catch on will not be a headset, but a multidimensional television-like apparatus, with multiple screens, that creates a 3D experience, and leverages the 3D camera arrangements that currently produce virtual reality content. This may introduce a type of virtual reality content that is quick enough and easy enough to implement on a whim, with few enough barriers to entry for the average consumer to engage.

With wide-scale adoption, marketers will finally be able to reach customers at scale, and benefit from this medium that has piqued their interest for decades.

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