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VR is great, but let’s be honest about its limitations

Smiling businesswoman using virtual reality simulator

Last week’s VR & AR World conference opened a few eyes to the potential of the technology but things need to be put in perspective; it’s miles away from normality.

Being completely honest, your correspondent was one of the sceptics, not in the sense virtual or augmented reality would not have an impact on the real-world, but more the sense it would be immensely limited. The hardware is too expensive, too impractical, appeal too niche and technology too far behind. But last week demonstrated there is considerable potential for the industry.

One thing which was clear throughout the two days was the preparation which is being put in ahead of the commercial realities of the tech. Prior to the launch of other technologies, there has been a sense of winging it. The perception received from the speakers and members of the show floor is the use cases are racking up; everything from training medical students, to estate agencies, to a welcome note from the CEO to new starters to removing the logistical nightmares of maintenance inspections in remote locations. The industry cannot be accused of being sloppy this time.

There are also numerous other supporting factors for the technology. Telecoms.com spotted and spoke to a number of investors who were touring the show floor, which considering Daniel Doornink, Founder and CEO at VR Base believes the success of the technology will be defined by whether companies are prepared to commit to spending; VR and AR cannot be half-arsed.

Another area which is worth considering is the role of Pokémon Go (sigh). Despite the over coverage in the press, as well as the interesting and somewhat incorrect claims of it being an AR game, it did open the eyes of the world to VR and AR. It allowed people to ‘experience’ alternative reality games, and normalized it for the mass market. In spite of the sighs whenever Pokémon Go is brought up as a topic, it did help the introduction to VR and AR considerably.

However, let’s put things in perspective. The hardware is not advanced enough. The promise of VR and AR is to create an experience almost parallel to the real-world, and today’s demanding consumer will only be happy if this promise is delivered. Despite the progress being made, there is still considerable work to do.

The price is also too high for the technology to be normalized within the mass market. Certain consumers will pay considerable amounts of money to experience the technology, though this is by no means mass market. Success of the technology will be only be realized if there enough traction in the market.

Yes, there are examples of more affordable technologies, Orange for example has launched VR1 on its mission to democratize and capitalize on VR, though the consumer will not have the same immersive experience. Cheap alternative could lead the technology down the fad path as they are not blown away by the experience.

VR is, to a degree, in the same band as artificial intelligence. There are enough negative connotations around the technology to mean consumers will have to be convinced by it. There may only be a limited number of opportunities to convince those in the mass market, those who are not technology enthusiasts, about the potential of VR otherwise it will be limited to niche segments.

Another message which came across throughout the show was Content is King. If 2016 was the year of hardware breakthroughs, 2017 will be the year of content. Currently the content is limited, unoriginal and clichéd. The industry has yet to see a blockbuster, and because technologists are focusing on delivering the fully immersive experience, there seems to be little thought going into the delivery of content. Yes, the experiences will amaze in the first instance, but like a book, unless something gets interesting in the next couple of chapters there will be another fad to grab the attention. Let’s be honest, there are only so many rollercoasters to ride.

Finally, with all the excitement over the potential and money which can be made through innovative use cases, the boring stuff can be forgotten. The infrastructure is no-where near ready to deliver such an experience on scale. Targeting medical students and surgeons may be an interesting means to sell VR headsets, but if the robotic arms starts to buffer in the middle of an operation, sh*t will get very real very fast. The network simply isn’t ready.

Now this may seem like a downer, and to a degree it is. Your correspondent has been slightly turned by the business potential of VR, but let’s put things in context, its miles away from reality reality.

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