VR is all about waves of excitement
Today I want to be a little polemical about the VR ecosystem.
The fact is that I don’t like the fact that VR is all about what I call “waves of excitement”. What is a wave of excitement? It is that moment when everyone in the VR communities is going super-hyped about a particular topic and you can’t escape from it. We’ve had lots of them, for instance with Robo Recall, Facebook Spaces and now with Echo Arena, ARKit and Google Blocks.
Don’t misunderstand me… these are all awesome products. I’ve tried Robo Recall and had lots of fun; I’ve reviewed Google Blocks and appreciated its simple yet effective interface. So I don’t criticize the enthusiasm… on the contrary I’m very happy of it, I like when people get excited about VR… as an innovator I get excited too.
But what I don’t like is that these waves are like a saturday night party at the disco: everyone is just concentrated in dancing and doesn’t listen to others; and when the night is over, everyone leaves and forgets.
Let me explain better.
First of all, there are serious concerns on how long these waves last: usually few days. And what happens after that? Facebook spaces has been tried by a bazillion people… but how many people are still using it? Meh, I don’t think that many. This is not a problem of facebook, since it is playing its game on the long term and has created this social to have success in the future, not in the present. But all the people defining it “the killer application of VR”… where are they?
ARKit and Google Blocks have still to demonstrate how they can be useful. 99% of ARKit experiences I’ve seen up to today are just useless stuff: experiments, toy programs and such. There have been lot of hype, but we’ll still have to see if this framework will be actually useful to something.
Then, there is the deafness to critics. When Unreal Engine announced editor support for VR, I warned people about the fact that it’s rather uncomfortable to use it all the time when creating a game. It’s tiresome to move controllers in the air for hours… using the mouse is better. Furthermore, if you want to code, you just can’t see the keyboard, since you’re in VR. It’s a great interface for fine tuning, for setting up 3d models into the scene, but not for developing. I told people about these concerns but even here people just answered that this is the future and that everyone in the future will code that way. Mah, when I develop in Unity, I still use mouse+keyboard…
And about ARKit… yes, cool… but smartphone-based augmented reality has really lots of issues, the first one being that you have to use one hand to keep the smartphone all the time. Field of view is quite limited and natural interactions are non-existent, since having the other hand interacting with the virtual elements while the first one holds the phone results in awkward body positions.
Alternative solutions are often forgotten. Google Blocks is great, but few people maybe know about in.blocks . It’s a nice app that lets you prototype things easily by voxel drawing… it is similar in many things to Google Blocks, but people just forgot.
Vuforia has been the mostly used framework for smartphone augmented reality for years. Apple has released ARKit and now everyone is hyper-hyped about it. When I talk about Vuforia, people tell me “Vuforia what?”. This is sad. And Facebook some months ago announced Facebook Camera, that is exactly as ARKit. Why there are many people thinking that ARKit is the only smartphone augmented reality framework out there?
When I had my Immotionar startup, that was focused on full body virtual reality using Kinects, I was flooded by the wave of “Body tracking using Vive Trackers”. Few people was interested in talking with us, while big magazines like UploadVR all praised how full body in VR is awesome (if you use Vive Trackers). And we started in 2014, far before the Vive even existed. I was really angry about it.
There’s also lack of memory in general. During E3 2017, everyone started talking about how Microsoft didn’t announce VR support of Xbox… that Microsoft made a step back in VR, etc… Well, Microsoft had already announced in March that new Xbox would have supported VR in 2018, but everyone forgot it. So then new super-interesting articles reported a new interview to a Microsoft spokeperson telling the unexpected news that… Microsoft will add VR support to Xbox in 2018. Wow, so much news. So informative.
When there are these waves, well, they’re unstoppable and unchangeable and this is what I hate the most of these moments. It’s like all VR people start thinking with a common brain… it is a crowd thinking. And I know that all of this comes from the excitement of people for this new tech, but I think that if we really want this tech to succeed, we should all start using more our brains and less our hearts.