We’re in the second wave of virtual reality.
People are trying to make VR happen since the 1960s. In the 1990s, a lot of people thought it’s going to finally happen, but it didn’t. The end of the first wave left a lot of investors, entrepreneurs and consumers distraught with VR. The well has been poisoned.
Oculus released the limited Devloper Kit 1 (DK1) of its Rift headset in 2013 and started the second wave of VR. Finally, other areas of technology had advanced far enough to make a low-cost, convenient, and super immersive VR headsets for the masses.
Well, it wasn’t for the masses, yet. The Oculus Rift Consumer Version (CV1) was released in early 2016 and sold for roughly $600. Although the CV1 was great, it still only appealed to a niche of hardcore PC gamers. See, using the Rift was much easier than any VR headset before, but it still wasn’t convenient compared to using a smarthpone or a laptop. In order to use the Rift, you needed a very performant PC, connect your Rift to the PC with a cable, and set up 2 or 3 sensors in your room in order to track your position. Therefore, the first and main use case for the Rift was gaming. Sure, fringe use cases such as professional simulations in a small number of industries were also happening, but on a much smaller scale.
In May 2018, Oculus released its first standalone VR headst: The Oculus Go. The big difference? Just strap it on and you’re in VR. As easy to use as a smartphone and only $200.
However, the Go wasn’t a better Rift. Instead, it extended the use cases for VR.
Now, people who wanted to play light games (like the ones you play on your smartphone), watch Netflix on a huge screen, or want to hang out with their loved ones in VR started to see value of VR. The Go doesn’t appeal to PC gamers because first of all, they already have a great PC to run the Oculus Rift, and second of all, the Go doesn’t have the performance to run their favorite games. The niche that it caters to is much bigger, however. It’s estimated that more Gos were sold in the last quarter of 2018 than Rifts in the whole year.
After gaming and entertainment, what are the next main use cases for VR?
I’m predicting productivity and social.
In 5 years from now, everyone will be working in VR instead of looking at a tiny laptop screen bent over their table. I’m already doing it now. You have multiple screens, can size them as you want. Your background is a nice mountain top or beach. You are significantly less distracted from your office environment. And for remote work, it’s an absolute game changer. I can invite my coworkers into my space, see their avatars, hear their voices and see their screens.
Social behavior is fundamental to all living things. But for us humans, it’s one of the most important things. VR allows me to hang out with my sister (who’s 6,000 miles away) and watch TV, talk, or play a round of chess.
And yes, it is significantly different and more real than facetiming.
For events and meetups, it’s revolutionary. Last week, I attended an event with hundreds of others and listened to Blake J. Harris (author of Console Wars and The History of the Future) answer questions from the audience. After that, people talked to each other and networked - just like a real meetup. Again, not possible over Skype. I probably woulnd’t have gone if it were a physical event two blocks away from my house, because of time and cost. But this way, I can attend many more meetups - if they suck I just take off my headset, if not, I’ve spent exactly the time that’s the duration of the event. No commute or other downtime.
I suspect that these two emerging use cases will propel VR to an absolute mainstream technology, mostly replacing smartphones, laptops and tablets.