The market for current generation VR technology is in an interesting place. Many in the field (including analysts like myself) looked at the state of VR in 2015/2016 and thought that the rise and advance of sales, adoption, software support, and vendor integration would be significantly higher than what we have actually witnessed. Though the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift on the PC, as well as Gear VR from Samsung and various VR platforms from Qualcomm do provide excellent experiences in price ranges from $200 to $2000, the curve of adoption just hasn’t been as steep as many had predicted.
That said, most that follow the innovation developments in VR and AR (augmented reality) clearly see that the technology still has an important future for consumer, commercial, and enterprise applications. Let’s be real: VR isn’t going away and we are not going to see a regression of the tech that plagued previous virtual reality market attempts. Growth might be slower, and AR could be the inflection point that truly drives adoption, but everyone should be prepared to consume content and interact through this medium.
There is no shortage of players in the VR/AR market, all attempting to leave their mark on the community. From hardware designs to software to distribution platforms and even tools development, there are a lot of avenues for companies looking to invest in VR to do so. But one company that potentially could have a more significant impact on VR, should it choose to make the investment of budget and time, is Dell. It may not be the obvious leader for a market space like this, but there is an opportunity for Dell to leverage its capabilities and experience to get in on the ground level of disruptive VR technology. There is more Dell can do that simply re-brand and resell what Microsoft has determined its direction is for VR.
Here are my reasons on why that is the case:
- The combined market advantage: Dell has the ability to address both commercial and consumer VR usage scenarios through its expansive channel and support systems. In recent months I have seen the interest in commercial applications of VR speed up more than end-user applications as the market sees what VR and AR can do for workflows, medical applications, design, customer walk-throughs and more. Very few PC and hardware companies have the infrastructure in place that Dell does to be able to hit both sides.
- Display expertise: Though a lot of different technology goes into VR and AR headsets (today and in the future), the most prominent feature is the display. Resolution, refresh rate, response time, color quality, and physical design are key parts of make a comfortable headset usable for long sessions. Dell is known for its industry-leading displays for PCs, and though the company isn’t manufacturing the panels, it has the team in place to procure and scrutinize display technology, ensuring that its products would have among the best experiences available for VR.
- Hardware flexibility: Because Dell has the ability to offer silicon solutions from any provider, including Intel, AMD, Qualcomm, or anyone else that provides a new solution, it is not tied to any particular reference design or segment. While Intel has backed out of VR designs (at least for now) and Qualcomm is working with partners like Lenovo and Oculus as they modify mobile-based reference designs for untethered VR headsets, Dell would be able to offer a full portfolio of solutions. Need a tethered, ultra-performance solution for CAD development or gaming? Dell has the PCs to go along with it. Need a mobile headset for on-site validation or budget consumer models? It could provide its own solution built with Qualcomm Snapdragon silicon or innovate with a mobile configuration of AMD APUs.
- The Alienware advantage: One of the most interesting and prominent uses for VR and AR is gaming, and Dell has one of the leading brands in PC gaming, Alienware. By utilizing the mindshare and partnerships that division lead Frank Azor has fostered since being acquired by Dell, the Alienware brand could position itself as the leader in virtual reality gaming.
- Being private offers stability: Though there are rumors that Dell wants to transition back to a public company again, being privately owned gives leadership more flexibility to try new things and enter new markets without the shareholders breathing down your neck in a public fashion if you aren’t hitting your margin or revenue goals on a quarterly basis. Because VR and AR is a growing field, with a lot of questions circling around it, the need to “push for revenue” on day one can haunt a public company interested in VR. Dell would not have that pressure, giving its design and engineering teams time to develop and to be creative.
- A strong design team: Despite being known as “just” a PC vendor to most of the market, Dell has a significant in-house design team that focuses on user interface, hardware design, and how technology interacts with people. I have seen much of this first hand in meetings with Dell showcasing its plans for the future of computing; it develops and creates much more than most would think. Applying this team to VR and AR designs, including hardware and software interaction, could create compelling designs.
There is no clear answer or path to the future of virtual or augmented reality. It is what makes the segment simultaneously so exciting and frightening for those of us watching it all unfold, and for the companies that invest in it. There are and will remain many players in the field, and everyone from Facebook to Qualcomm will have some say in what the future of interactive computing looks like. The question is, will Dell be a part of that story too?