VR is a dud

John Biggs
Apr 11, 2016 · 7 min read
The future, early
Proposed VR/AR content
Actual VR/AR Content

“You ever think maybe it gets on my nerves, you coming on like people I know?’ He stood, swatting pale dust from the front of his black jeans. He turned, glaring back at the dusty shop windows, the closed door to the street. “What’s out there? New York? Or does it just stop?”

“Well,” said the Finn, “it’s like that tree, you know? Falls in the woods but maybe there’s nobody to hear it.” He showed Case his huge front teeth, and puffed his cigarette. “You can go for a walk, you wanna. It’s all there. Or anyway all the parts of it you ever saw. This is memory, right? I tap you, sort it out, and feed it back in.”

“I don’t have this good a memory,” Case said, looking around. He looked down at his hands, turning them over. He tried to remember what the lines on his palms were like, but couldn’t.

“Everybody does,” the Finn said, dropping his cigarette and grinding it out under his heel, “but not many of you can access it. Artists can, mostly, if they’re any good. If you could lay this construct over the reality, the Finn’s place in lower Manhattan, you’d see a difference, but maybe not as much as you’d think. Memory’s holographic, for you.” The Finn tugged at one of his small ears. “I’m different.”

“How do you mean, holographic?” The word made him think of Riviera.

“The holographic paradigm is the closest thing you’ve worked out to a representation of human memory, is all. But you’ve never done anything about it. People, I mean.” The Finn stepped forwards and canted his streamlined skull to peer up at Case. — William Gibson, Neuromancer

  1. Hardware. The hardware necessary to create an immersive 3D experience is expensive, clunky, and difficult to run. Further, it requires space. You can sell a few thousand VR rigs to folks in big houses but what about the folks in studio apartments? Are you supposed to bump into your dresser while fighting off aliens? “AR,” you say. “That’s the ticket!” AR, or augmented reality, still requires massive computing power to overlay dragons or airplane repair instructions over the real world. Displaying a shop manual in a pair of AR goggles is one thing but offering a 3D rendering of a jet engine is another.
  2. Kids. We are about to enter a decade of electronics backlash. Just as TV was vilified by parents in the 1990s I suspect iPads and other devices will be vilified in the 2020s. Parents are watching their kids be swallowed up by mobile devices and the resulting pushback will probably stymie device sales for a solid decade. The result? The parents who hate “the iPad” will really hate VR. Kids drive entertainment hardware sales. I assure you there is no parent in the world right now who will allow their little ones to fall as deeply into a virtual world — especially if it requires a massive headset and expensive PC — as they have let them fall into Toca Boca and Clash Of Clans.
  3. The Future. The future I foresee for VR is direct brain interaction. As it stands, visual VR rigs are interstitial technologies. If we are going truly become one with our machines the input won’t be mediated by the optic nerve. Instead, I expect something akin to “jacking in” will truly cause VR to take off. What this looks like in practice is still unclear but we’re getting closer. Current investment in VR is great as it will build an proto-industry for future growth but in the near term the VR bubble will pop and all of our Oculii will collect dust. This won’t stop 2017 from being the “YEAR OF VR” at CES in January nor will it stop folks from spending good money on garbage for a few more years. But the good times will end until the better times come.

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John Biggs

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Writer And Entrepreneur

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