Until this year Virtual Reality has been a toy of the hacker crowd and techies. Now we are seeing the launch of products that will change your smartphone into an immersive device to make you look as cool as Marty McFly in his video glasses.
While the ambition is to create new ways to consume content and engage consumers there is a lot of background noise comparing this device to the 3D TV and pointing out the flaws. The question remains; is VR the new 3Dtv or the new Nintendo DS?
The fundamental nature of the device is that a consumer must wear this and become totally immersed in the content, however, this could be its downfall in that consumers like to multitask. One of the key flaws in the 3DTV was that consumers had to wear glasses (which often didn’t work properly) in order to access the full extent of the content which prevented them from doing other tasks simultaneously. Like many new technologies VR is trying to gain consumer trust and acceptance. Now is the time to overcome the barriers to see if it can emerge the other side as the newest media channel.
Key to the hype around VR is that promoters of the tool want to use it for not only entertainment but also commerce and social functions. When you look at the interest in the device vs the inclination to actually buy you quickly realise that problems could arise. Namely cost being a high priority for those wishing to buy the head-mounted device rendering the consumer sceptical. It has to be experienced for people to fully realise its potential. Trials are the obvious solution but given the opportunity for this is limited so word of mouth and discussion must be relied upon. Evangelists must be relied upon in those early adopters.
Secondly VR must overcome the cool factor; VR Headsets look a little odd! Not only are you wearing a headset and moving your head around, when you put the headset on you are entering an alternative reality. This also was the case for other mediums historically but it still presents a barrier.
Thirdly there is the single experience angle. Similarly, to the 3Dtv VR limits users to one experience and the need to lock out all other screens and distractions. Can millennials cope with not being able to live tweet their experience while in a VR headset?
When done well, the user will have an experience that will transport them to another world. If done badly, visceral responses could impact users like nausea, dizziness and vertigo. The content is the real key to unlocking this technology and this crucial factor is that the uptake of the software enables the type of experience.
While the content that has been launched so far can be incredibly powerful, the question remains if they are mass marketable. Will parents want to be buying these headsets for their kids? Will millennials want to be sharing the experience? Will the middle-aged market of consumers want to strap a device to their faces in order to access new content?
While it's unfair to judge the whole medium on the basis of the early release software it is hard to see the completion of this concept of experiences in the Zuckerberg meaning. While he believes that this platform will change the story for experiences (“enjoying a courtside seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face, just by putting on goggles in your home.”), will the everyday consumer be interested in this technology to take it mainstream?
Clumsy experience, cost and content could be big enough barriers to stop VR becoming the new media channel of 2017.