The Future of Virtual Reality: Gauging the Near-Future Impact

The Future of Virtual Reality: Gauging the Near-Future Impact

As dust settled on the first generation of VR, the noise of VR, although perhaps not quite dead, faded into a dull murmur. This is a good thing for virtual reality. In the world of technology, the noise comes easily. Technical products and possibly entire tech industries have been backed based on hype alone. Such products burn brightly for a short time, and often turn to ash at the same speed.
Hype can affect both good and bad products. Both Segway and Google Glass saw so much hype before their release to the public that it’s doubtful any product could have satiated the hype built around them. No less a technical authority than what Steve Jobs, Apple CEO, claimed about Segway before its launch, “If enough people see the device, you don’t have to convince them to design cities around it. It’s just going to happen.”
Comparing virtual reality to these products may be of concern to some people. After all, Segway has not achieved anywhere near the expected level of adoption. Google Glass struggled to gain adopters and was eventually taken out of the market for retooling. Similar to both Segway and Google Glass, virtual reality has attracted praise from tech visionaries, by promoting the “future potential” of a product, regardless of the current state of the technology. But here the similarities end.
As the hype around virtual reality fades, all that’s left for you are actual, proven results and the use of a product. Instead of promising what the product could be, you begin to see what the product actually is. And while VR isn’t currently the Star Trek Holodeck that many might hope to become immediately, it’s still an amazing product, what’s more, considering we’re still only seeing the first generation of hardware.
In the near future, you can probably expect more of the same from developments in virtual reality. To date, VR’s biggest gains in traction have relied on the entertainment and gaming industries. But many industries are starting to see the potential of virtual reality and are working to adopt virtual reality for their own uses. Education, healthcare, and industrial uses are starting to emerge, pushing virtual reality use cases into the spotlight. These and other industries will continue to adopt it as the quality of VR improves and its technology becomes less expensive.
Location-based experiences are emerging as a surprising introduction to virtual reality for many users. Some people think that the advent of virtual reality means that you may no longer need to leave your home but you can experience everything virtually! Instead, a large number of consumers have so far been reluctant to go ahead with purchasing more immersive virtual reality devices for their homes, content right now to pay for the high-end VR experience onsite elsewhere. Most likely, this trend will continue over the next few years, as location-based experiences will find ways to outperform what the user might be able to replicate at home.
Manufacturers focusing on more portable, standalone VR headsets point to consumers who want a portable, low-cost device, although it may not necessarily be the most powerful or most immersive. Of course, there will always be a group of consumers pushing for the latest experiences possible, and there will be devices designed for that group as well.
However, mid-tier standalone headphones seem to be where manufacturers focus mainly. It will be interesting to see if this push towards standalone devices continues. If Moore’s Law continues, our mobile devices may soon be powerful enough to power highly immersive VR experiences on their own. With the next generation focusing on standalone headsets, it appears that the days of mobile-based virtual reality, while the most popular way to experience virtual reality today, may be digitized in favor of standalone devices.
Moore’s Law is an observation made by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore. He noted that the number of transistors in the integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years. In general, it is expected that the processing power of computers will double every two years. This was more applicable in the past and may not be entirely true today, but it is still considered a rule of thumb.
In the end, the customer may not always be right, but he will always be the customer. Manufacturers may be able to direct them to water, but they cannot make them drink. Consumers are driving adoption. The most telling factor as to where virtual reality is likely to be concentrated in the near future will be the rate of adoption of the second generation of virtual reality devices. If it’s focused on mid-tier headphones, expect the developers who make the apps to reflect the same focus, with more emphasis on mid-tier consumer experiences.
Expanding the timeline for far-future predictions, it’s easy to imagine a form factor that integrates both VR and AR into one device. Such a device could become completely opaque and locked to display virtual reality experiences or turn transparent with overlays to allow for augmented reality experiences.