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XR is Only the Beginning, and We're Finally on our Way
By Cederik Haverbeke, CTO, The Park Playground & President VR/AR Association in Belgium Chapter
But that's five years ago, today there's an abundance of factual proof on what VR does well, so I can skip that bit altogether and leave it to the reader to do further research in case (s)he's not convinced yet. The essence is; People love that they can finally naturally interact with the Digital, and they want more of it.
So, now that we're done trying to convince people they should pay attention to VR. Where are we at, and what should you consider in the coming years when figuring out how you cope with this trend? I will take you through what I call Generation 1.0 and Generation 1.5 of VR technology followed by Generation 2.0 for VR, but also the point where it converges with AR and MR converge. The moment it only begins.
VR Generation 1.0; 2013-2018.
I'm aware the first forms of VR go back to the 1800s, let's not go there.
Let's put everything created during 2013-2018 in one big category; Generation 1. A bit disrespectful, but for the sake of the article, let's leave it at that.
Generation 1 delivered on giving us a way to showcase the true potential of VR, even more, measure it and create an objective proof. From healthcare to art, from automotive to aerospace, from construction to retail, technology infiltrated everywhere, and where pioneers were willing to mask the technical hurdles, employees and customers were left in Awe, amazed on what technology could do these days.
But there you have the main challenge of this generation; there was still too much technology friction for widespread consumer adoption. We've all seen the 2016 hockey stick graphs, telling us everyone on the planet would be carrying an extra device next to their smartphone. It didn't go that way. Apart from PSVR doing well in entertainment and a couple of AR hits using smartphones, we haven't seen any considerable consumer adoption numbers yet.
But we did see something unexpected, enterprise and location-based entertainment, willing to invest in this new technology. Enter, Generation 1.5.
Generation 1.5 - Now.
While investments were made, lessons were learned. This industry initially thought consumers would drive it forward, so all processes, infrastructure, and business models were structured accordingly. I can tell from experience that it's hard to run an enterprise like environment on software aimed at consumers. Imagine your entire IT infrastructure receiving an unexpected update overnight because somebody's gun was malfunctioning in a video game on the other side of the planet.
In what I call Generation 1.5, both hardware and software providers listened to the enterprise market and started to cater to where the money is coming from.
- Ease of deployment; Inside out tracking (the headset knows where it is without external beacons) reduces installation complexity considerably, which lowers the in-house expertise required to start exploring VR possibilities.
- Increased visual fidelity; It's clear that for enterprise use readability and product detail is an essential factor. The first headsets boasting retina resolution are arriving or have arrived.
- 1 Headset, multiple users; Gen 1 headsets are built for personal use; you wanted to be able to tailor the headset to fit you perfectly and had the whistles and bells to do so. The different personalization features could be fragile when used over and over again. Manufacturers realized several users use the same headset and should be more robust. Gen 1.5 takes this into account.
- Software; Although I expect this to remain a fickle point for Gen 1.5, there are indications that we can expect more stable software platforms, and more developer support to get things enterprise reliable.
- Enterprise support programs; longer payment terms, credit lines, 24/7 support— reasonable expectations for any enterprise customer. Gen 1.5 is not only new hardware and software but also comes with updated services programs on the supplier side.
- Eye-tracking; understanding how a user experiences it all, starts with knowing where (s)he's looking. In this generation, we have the means to do so accurately at a proportionate price point and with acceptable ease of use.
The near future allows natural interaction with the digital. By processing this interaction, AI will be able to learn and assist better than ever before
And although focusing on enterprise, let's not forget the trend of standalone inside out tracking devices on the consumer side. What they lack in computing power, they compensate in ease of use and price point. With a grain of salt, you could say these devices deliver Gen 1 capabilities to the broader audience. I still don't believe the 2016 Hockey Curves will happen now, but we will see good growth in the addressable market on the consumer side. And for several enterprise use cases, the standalone mobile devices will be powerful enough to create considerable end-user value already.
In a nutshell; if you were waiting to install a VR room on your premises and haven't defined a VR strategy; now is the time to do so. And you better hurry up, because Generation 2.0 is coming and you want to have packed some experience before it does.
Generation 2.0; Cloud Streaming.
Cloud streaming has been a hot topic in the gaming market. With Strada, Google shook up this space once again. We should expect similar services to empower VR and thus AR/MR as well in the coming years, removing the remaining friction. Once this generation lands Visual & Audio Fidelity that can only be delivered in a tethered way today, will be offered everywhere regardless of the XR Device (abbreviating VR/AR/MR). It will be up to the preference of the end-user.
By then, you want to make sure as a company; you thoroughly understand what works in XR, applied to your products or services. As it will no longer be a question if XR is part of your strategy, it will be the way both consumer and employees interact with your digital products and services, if you like it or not.
The Real Promise of XR; Input for AI.
At this point, the real promise of XR unlocks. The unnatural smartphone based way of interacting with the Digital will eventually disappear and move to natural interaction with gesturing and voice. The technology to track these interactions will continuously improve, allowing the computer to understand what a human thinks and expects fully. And this is where it gets fascinating, as an AI will be able to follow us completely—learning about us at first phase, assisting us in a second phase. Where smartphones were an interface for human 1.5, XR creates the interface for human 2.0.
But there is a long road ahead before end-users, and even employees will be comfortable with something continually looking over their shoulder. It will come down to an old human problem; Trust.
The Take Away;
The near future allows natural interaction with the digital. By processing this interaction, AI will be able to learn and assist better than ever before. But your users need to trust this intrusive offering. Take action within your company and strategize on how you will gain that trust. Part of that you can earn by showing expertise through well-designed XR offerings, so you better start building that expertise today.