Image by Guido van Nispen

2017 is NOT the Year of Virtual Reality: So Why is Everyone Talking About It?

History tells us that technology proliferation beyond early adopters hinges on three key metrics. Quality, Price, and Necessity. VR is in a unique position to blow through these metics, but will it happen this year, or ever?

Here are three reasons why we “aren't there yet”:

1. VR Hasn't Reached The Magic “Immersion Quality” Metric

“Hey Siri, what time is golden hour?”

(For those who don’t know, golden hour is the hour before sunrise and sunset, best known as the “perfect lighting” for photographers)

I asked Siri a simple question, but Siri responds with a WolframAlpha query “{(data not available), per hour}”.

#facepalm

Siri launched in 2011. It’s still awful. But speech recognition is taking off, and the adoption and pervasiveness of it is starting to match the investment big tech companies are putting into this technology.

So what’s going on, and what does this have to do with Virtual Reality?

Andrew Ng, the chief scientist at Biadu was quoted recently saying:

“as speech recognition accuracy goes from say 95 per cent to 98, 99 to 99.9, all of us in the room will go from barely using it today or infrequently to using it all the time. Most people underestimate the difference between 95 and 99 per cent accuracy — 99 per cent is a game changer.”

Siri still sucks, but Alexa is pretty good, and Google assistant is pretty good also. These two are approaching that magic 99%.

VR has a different, but similar, metric that will determine it’s success. Quality of immersion. It’s harder to pinpoint where this is right now, but it’s nowhere near 99%.

2. The State of VR Quality

Right now there are two main categories of quality when looking at the immersion capabilities.

The first category is the expensive big players. The HTV Vive, the Oculus Rift, and the Playstation VR.

These guys have been working on VR for quite some time and their headsets have crossed over from fun developer kits to consumer ready devices. This past year we saw the big three release market ready products with a lot of hype, great press coverage, and laudable sales figures.

At the end of 2016, 1% of Americans now own one of the big three’s headsets. That’s 3.2MM people.

Part of that reason is the quality, and level of immersion has reached a point were it makes sense for enthusiasts to fork up the cash and buy one of these super cool toys.

Toys. Right now they are all toys. Gaming, and the release of tons of VR content, has made these 3 headsets amazing gaming tools, bringing a whole paradigm to the gaming world. But right now, that’s where it stops.

The price point is too high and, beyond gaming, there’s not much else to do….well unless you’re into virtual conversations with “sexy singles in your area”…*ahem*

The other big player in the VR space are the headsets designed around phones. Google Cardboard, Samsung Gear VR, and Google Daydream, have massive adoption numbers (Google has shipped over 10 Million Cardboards) but they are still toys. Fun, but not necessary, or making our lives more efficient.

3. Will there ever be a “Year of VR?”

No. Unlike mobile phones, or computers, or tablets, VR will not have a tsunami-like wave of adoption all in one year.

Instead of a huge wave, VR is going to grow just like the rising tides of our oceans due to global warming. It’s going to continue to grow so slowly that many will lose interest and will some will even say that VR is a pipe-dream that will never become mainstream.

But it’s inevitable, and it’s only a matter of time…. just like our ever warming planet.

Does that mean companies should ignore this new technology? No.

The Truth is that VR will continue to grow and as the price of hardware comes down, the quality of immersion goes up, and the necessity of it’s use cases increases, we will start to see VR experiences replacing existing technology use cases, and that’s when we’ll see adoption grow.

When will VR live up to the hype?

Over the next 5 years. First in industries like healthcare and entertainment, then education, real estate, and eventually manufacturing, telecom, and the rest.

This is why companies should be investing today in prototypes, running small pilots in experimental regions, building out use cases and testing them as new an emerging technologies enter the market to solve some of the challenges.

The brands that ignore VR right now will be left in the dust. I don’t say this lightly. Building an experience in VR is more difficult that any technology we’ve seen to date (I know first hand), so there’s a huge learning curve.

If you’re interested in learning more, Mark Zuckerberg echoes a lot of my thinking in his recent address to his company. A summary of that can be found here.

I’m not working on anything related to VR right now (because I’m more interesting in other things, like the future of transportation and autonomous vehicles) but that doesn't mean I’m retired. I believe that VR will be a game changer I look forward to seeing the evolution of this technology over the next five years.

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Jay Willingham

Tech Consultant. Austinite, born and raised. Entrepreneur. Lover of random dancing.