Could VR Gain Traction with Consumers During Covid-19 Lockdown?

Last week I wrote about the potential of VR video conferences becoming a possibility in the future. My view of VR specifically is that it is a technology that is optimal for vertical markets like manufacturing, utilities, military, airlines, etc. Even VR video conferencing falls into my definition of vertical markets. I know that VR games have driven sales of VR headsets, and while that is a large market, it still falls under my view of vertical markets because it does not bring VR to the masses.

Based on years of research on AR and VR, I have felt that AR and VR were really different approaches to mixed reality and that it would be AR that would eventually bring mixed reality to the masses. I still hold that view and believe that Apple will eventually be the company that, with whatever AR headset with apps and service model they create, will be the one that actually gets mixed reality to the broader public.

However, now that I am at home and can finally spend more time using a VR specific headset like the Oculus Quest, I find myself using one particular VR application a lot. This app is related to travel, and more specifically, travelogues and travel-related documentaries and travel educational VR programs.

Now I admit that part of why this fascinates me is that I have traveled for 39 years as part of my job and visited over 50 countries in my work. This has created a travel bug in me that is pretty active. While I do enjoy not traveling at the moment, I found that I still would like the travel experience but without getting on planes or trains.

I had used VR travel apps in other VR headsets, but the Oculus Quest is a step above the lower cost VR headsets I have used in the past. It is no wonder that Oculus Quest headsets are on backorder now, as it appears that a lot of people have bought them during their stay-at-home experience.

Although I have used this VR headset for other apps, including some games, it is the travel apps that I think make VR quite attractive for a broader audience than just verticals.

One travel app that came up in the initial tutorial when I fired up the Oculus Quest was a virtual tour of the fire-ravaged Notre Dame Cathedral. I had seen pictures of the damage on the outside, but this tour took me inside the church and walked me through the damage, floor by floor. I have spent a lot of time in Paris and know well the history and layout of Notre Dame.

I actually spent a large part of a day once exploring every space I could go that had public access and became very familiar with its iconic relics, crips, and statues. With this virtual 360 demo, I was able to walk down the center aisle, which I have done over a dozen times and see the damage in the main church. The tour then took us up to the roof where the Spire had been and could look down o the damage from this viewpoint.

When my son Ben was 15, I decided we needed to do something that created a tighter bond. For most of his life, I was on the road, and one summer, I took extra time off, and the two of us got certified as scuba divers. We were privileged to be able to do dives in the Florida Keys and many dives in Hawaii. I even did a shark dive in the Bahamas, which was quite an experience in its own right since this dive was not in a cage.

One particular diving experience in Hawaii was when we would find a group of turtles and literally swim with them about 10 feet away, gliding through the clear blue waters as these turtles swam looking for food.

It turns out that swimming with turtles in VR delivers a very similar experience. The only difference is that I don’t have to put on scuba gear and can do this from an easy chair in my study. Because this is a 360 VR experience, it feels exactly as if I am in the waters with the turtles and swimming beside them. The first time I used this app, it brought back great memories but was, in a sense, a bit spooky too.

One other travel app that I really like is related to food. One of my favorite food cities in the world is Singapore. There are multiple VR ravel apps that bring me to what they call the “Hawker Centers,” which are city created areas with food stalls that serve incredible food at very low prices. There are dozens of these hawker stalls and special food markets, and these VR apps can take you right to these areas and make you feel like you are there in person.

I have spent many hours in the hawker centers and markets in Singapore, and being able to walk through these stalls and markets is a great experience minus the ability to go and eat at the various food stalls in person. In fact, the VR travel apps can take you to food markets all over the world, and even if you have never been to them in person, it is an educational experience in its own right where you can learn about a countries foodways and culture.

I have looked at most of the various predictions on VR and don’t believe that VR by itself is the virtual approach that will drive mixed reality to a broad consumer market. I still believe that AR and some form of AR and VR will eventually have the killer apps that make virtual reality a mainstream technology.

But my experience with the Oculus Quest has given me a new perspective, and with the right apps, such as games, travel, and entertainment, VR dedicated headsets will draw interest from most likely an early adopter community that in itself is millions of people. However, an AR focused mixed reality solution to me is still that one virtual reality technology that has the greatest chance of bringing a mass consumer audience to the mixed reality virtual experience.

I just don’t think VR alone will do this. While it may take another few years to get the right mix of AR glasses or goggles and apps that make AR very consumer-focused, I know that Apple, Google, and Samsung see AR as the next big thing in virtual reality and are working hard on making the right products and apps that could eventually bring mixed reality to a mass consumer market.

Published by

Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

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