The potential is amazing, and I’ve played some great games first-hand. Much more importantly, there is an entire world of doors beyond gaming that VR can open for all sorts of people. But until quality VR can fit into a slim pair of wrap-around glasses, I wonder if it will follow a luke-warm path similar to gaming consoles.
Right now, and for a decent time into the future, good VR requires a lot of equipment, including a pretty big PC and big, ugly, clunky, no-one’s-going-to-carry-these-out-of-the-house glasses. Many potential VR customers just finished replacing their home PCs with smartphones and Macs, or will in the next 5-10 years, so I have a hard time believing they’ll backtrack into PCs of any kind.
I think a big part of the reason we went gaga for smartphones is that they strike a fantastic balance between value and effort. It takes very little effort to learn and use a smartphone, and even less to carry it with you in a pocket or bag. But then you can access an entire world of information, tools, resources, and entertainment. Many of us take this for granted now, but it really is mind-bendingly amazing, and gosh why don’t you have a better appreciation for modern technology.
VR adds incredible layers of interactivity and immersion, but what is the actual value versus effort to gain those elements? Right now, most things I’ve seen and tried look very entertaining, which has obvious value in specific cases. But how important are those elements to accessing information, tools, and resources? Will people carry VR glasses for PC-based systems like they carry their smartphones to work, the park, and on the train? We’ve already seen photos of people using smartphone-based VR on public transit, and the reaction seems to be in the ballpark of negativity that we saw with the now-defunct Google Glass, and those at least still allowed the wearer to interact with the real world.
Now, factor in the high amount of equipment effort VR will require for the near future, and I wager you’ll come to a conclusion similar to mine. Many previous technologies had some sort of value versus effort versus cost threshold, and I wonder if VR’s is still a ways off.
Perhaps, when VR nears the sophistication seen in our current scifi films—where it fits into a pair of barely-there sunglasses that are so cheap and ubiquitous we toss them into the trash when we realize authoritarian authorities are on our tail—it will realize smartphone levels of adoption and success.