Virtual Reality Inches Closer to Commercial Reality

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Virtual Reality Inches Closer to Commercial Reality

It’s never a good sign when experts are predicting that a new technology will conquer the world, and yet most people don’t understand what it does or why they would ever need it.  And that’s the situation that virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are in today.

The hype is growing, with pundits proclaiming that VR and AR are ready to explode.  For instance, TechCrunch forecasts that revenues will hit $150 billion three years from now.1 

But most consumers simply aren’t all that interested.  For instance, a recent ReportLinker survey concluded that “the majority of respondents do not understand the concept of virtual reality and fully half cannot name a single brand behind the VR technology.”  And while 58 percent of Americans have heard about VR, they remain unable to “explain what it’s all about.”2

Of course, there was a time when the majority of Americans didn’t understand the Internet, smartphones, or Facebook, and all of those innovations eventually caught on and evolved into game-changers.  But for every blockbuster like the iPhone, there’s an overhyped, underwhelming product like Google Glass, which received breathless reviews in 2013 before launching in 2014, where it encountered both the backlash against early adopters and the privacy concerns that we forecast in our October 2013 issue.3  Google withdrew Glass in 2015 and was reportedly revamping the product under the helm of a former Apple designer, but its rumored re-launch in 2016 never happened.

Let’s be clear:  VR and AR will transform the user experience in several business and consumer applications.  And the twin technologies will be big.  It just won’t happen as soon as many pundits are predicting.

Because we’ve covered this topic many times, as recently as May 2016, we’ll keep our discussion of “what it is” as succinct as possible and refer you to previous issues for more details should you need them.  To distinguish between VR and AR, keep in mind:

  • Virtual reality creates an experience in which the user enters either a fantasy world, like a video game, or a virtual version of a real world, such as a flight simulator. The key players in VR are Sony, Oculus, HTV, and Samsung. 
  • Augmented reality creates an experience in which the user sees digital objects and characters within the real world, as in the Pokemon Go fad last year that imbedded animated characters within physical landmarks, or the overlaying of a repair manual’s diagrams over the machine that a technician needs to fix...

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