It feels like virtual reality has been touted as the “next big thing” for some time now. However, tech experts aren’t yet certain on exactly when VR will tip over into the mainstream.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg clearly believes in the potential of virtual reality, having invested significantly in the technology. He also plans to make further investments amounting to over $3 Billion in the coming years, according to TechCrunch. Despite this, Zuckerberg himself doesn’t think we’re on the cusp of a VR revolution – at least not quite yet.
The billionaire is quoted in Business Insider saying that VR is “going to need 10 years to become a very mainstream big thing.” However, he has grand plans for it, with the same article mentioning his idea of people being able to share “entire settings” on social media, rather than just photos and video clips. This would clearly take Facebook to a whole new level!
Fortune reporter Erin Griffith also seems to think that VR has some way to go, saying that it’s currently “best experienced in a crowded, noisy convention center in Las Vegas.” While this may be true, it’s worth pointing out that those very convention centres, in Las Vegas and elsewhere, are often packed to the gills with people looking to try out the latest VR hardware – hardware that gets more sophisticated by the minute.
Market forecasts published by Statista predict serious growth in the virtual reality marketplace in the next three years alone. The virtual reality sector (combined with the augmented reality sector) is anticipated to be worth nearly $150 billion worldwide by 2020.
If these forecasts turn out to be correct, there will be around 82 million VR headsets in use worldwide. However, this only refers to dedicated VR headsets. A separate statistic forecasts 320 million “augmented, virtual and mixed reality devices” in use by 2020. This will include the kind of devices, already available, that allow people to use their smartphones as makeshift VR headsets.
It does seem unlikely that everyone will be wearing a headset and living in a virtual world as a matter of course within the next few years. However, to put the above numbers in perspective, a Fortune report estimates that there are around 700 million iPhones in use as of March 2017. If there are just under half that number of VR devices in use by 2020, that’s still an awful lot. So if the figures are correct, it seems inevitable that VR will feature in many more lives than it does now. This may not represent true “mainstream” adoption, but it does mean the use of VR will no longer be confined to gamers and enthusiasts.
With all that in mind, here are three things that will inevitably be changed or disrupted by the growth of virtual reality:
Even in a ten-year time frame, it seems rather unlikely that anyone will be able to step into a Star Trek-style holodeck as a substitute for a holiday. However, virtual reality is already making inroads in the travel industry.
Hotel chain Marriott has shown particular enthusiasm for the potential applications of VR. Back in 2015, Engadget reporter Nick Summers visited a Marriott hotel on London’s Park Lane to try out a pilot initiative called VRoom Service.
Utilizing a Samsung Gear VR headset teamed up with a Samsung Galaxy S6 smartphone, Marriott’s VRoom Service allows hotel guests to hire the whole setup and use it in their room. The pilot setup included “virtual postcard” visits to Chile, Beijing and Rwanda. While the service was little more than a novelty (and hasn’t been rolled out beyond the pilot, at least at the time of writing), it’s just the kind of novelty that could appeal to business travellers who frequently find themselves bored in hotel rooms. As VR technology develops, chains like Marriott will be able to do more and more with such systems.
Since working with Samsung Gear, Marriott has also tried out the Oculus Rift, as reported in Travel and Leisure. In another pilot scheme, the hotel chain installed a Rift-based VR device named “The Teleporter” at the New York Marriott Marquis. This device allowed guests to journey from a virtual hotel lobby to VR representations of London and Hawaii, in what was widely reported to be an impressive experience.
As the technology evolves and becomes more ubiquitous, it seems likely that such experiences will become more commonplace. It also seems probable that Marriott hotels will go on to roll out VR experiences for their guests. The company certainly seems rather committed to the tech.
Horse racing is another activity where virtual reality is making significant inroads. There are already games available that allow people to step into the virtual riding boots of jockeys. As the sports betting industry and horse racing are very closely related, systems that allow gamblers to ride the horses they’ve bet on are on the way too, to allow punters to make their betting experience more immersive.
Horse racing games are already a hit with users of VR technology. Smartphone VR users can try out a game called VR Horse Race Run & Jump, where jumps are triggered by a lift of the head. For a more sophisticated experience, Starters Orders 6 on the Oculus Rift claims to offer a “true ‘in the saddle’ experience!”
The most exciting VR development related to horse racing is technology that will soon allow people who bet on horses to wear a headset and experience the race as if they were the jockey, thanks to the use of GPS trackers on the horses themselves. By tracking the precise locations of the horses, it’s possible to recreate the race virtually, transporting the wearer straight to the racetrack.
While this technology has yet to emerge from prototype stages at the time of writing, everything needed to roll it out is in place. Earlier this year, virtual reality was also used for the first time when broadcasting the Cheltenham Races on TV. VR’s place in the future of horse racing is already well cemented.
Use of virtual boardrooms is another VR innovation that seems likely to go mainstream sooner rather than later. If people can look around a room, see their fellow delegates, and be easily able to share reactions and mannerisms, is there really any need for anyone to travel to meetings anymore?
Using VR for business in this way could prove extremely popular, as it would save both time and money. A recent Wall Street Journal feature reported on experiences of various virtual conference platforms.
As well as allowing people to virtually “sit together” at meetings, these systems offer various additional means of collaboration, such as whiteboards, 3D modelling and presentation tools. Despite a reference to some challenges related to Wi-Fi connectivity, the reaction to what’s already available in this space seems to suggest people will quickly buy in to using virtual reality in the workplace. The technology can work as both an enhancement to the kind of video conferencing tools that are already ubiquitous, or as an alternative to time-consuming and costly physical meetings.
Nobody’s trying to pretend that the next few years in virtual reality will bring about the kind of “must buy” feeling that the iPhone generated. However, it seems certain that people are going to begin to see these headsets popping up in more and more environments and contexts. If an Oculus rift headset can facilitate attendance at a board meeting on the other side of the world, with no requirement to pack a suitcase or board a plane, that’s a compelling proposition – both practically and financially.
While nobody could reasonably predict when VR’s tipping point will occur, it’s hard to envisage there not being one. As with any technology, prices will come down, and the equipment will cease to only be seen at conventions and in the homes of cutting-edge tech enthusiasts. Anyone who’s yet to wear a VR headset for the first time probably won’t need to wait that much longer.