One Big Concern for VR

I recently read an interesting piece in VR Focus talking about the Niantic CEO’s concerns about VR. Niantic is the company that gave us Pokemon Go. Speaking at the Mixed Reality Summit in London, Mr. Hanke said he preferred to concentrate on the benefits of AR and was concerned about the seductive nature of virtual reality (VR) as a form of escape from the real world.

He said as part of his speech: “My thing about VR is I’m afraid it can be too good, in the sense of being an experience that people want to spend a huge amount of time in,” he said. “I mean I already have concerns about my kids playing too much Minecraft, and that’s a wonderful game.

“We’re human beings and there’s a lot of research out there that shows we’re actually a lot happier when we get exercise, when we go outside – and outside in nature in particular. I think it’s a problem for us as a society if we forgo that and spend all of time in a Ready Player One-style VR universe.”

Given Mr. Henke’s own research and commitment to AR, his comments could sound like sour grapes. But I think he is on to something very important. If you have played with Oculus Rift, HTC’s Vive, or Playstation VR, you know how immersive the VR experience can be. Once inside a virtual world, you become captivated by the experience and for many people, staying in virtual reality is as much of an escape from the real world as it is a gaming experience.

I am in no way against VR and its potential. In fact, its use in vertical markets like medical, construction, military, pilot simulations, and even gaming will be solid growth markets for years to come. But I see two general concerns related to VR people need to be aware of and self-management of this will be important to the impact of the VR experience in their lives.

The first is one Mr. Henke stated in his comments and it is important. Getting caught up in virtual worlds that keep a person from socializing, getting out to mingle, network, and exercise is antithetical to the human experience. Spending mass amounts of time under the hood of a VR world could warp personalities and push people to be more internally focused and that can’t be healthy.

The other concern I see with too much VR is medically related. The first is its impact on a person’s eyes. We already know how staring at a PC screen for hours on end can impact one’s vision and eventually force them to use glasses or take other measures to relieve eye strain. But having VR goggles so close to the eyes with moving visuals that impact, not only the eyes, but motion stability also has its downsides. To date, I have not seen any technology that could help correct the motion sickness associated with some VR apps.

I believe many of these concerns are why Apple is most likely going to push hard into AR in the near future. If they ever support VR in a mixed reality setting, Apple would do it in a way that still makes AR the center of their mixed reality solution. The same goes for Microsoft. Even though they use goggles, their focus is on AR and mixed reality. While VR apps can be created for it, Microsoft is really pushing their developers hard to focus on AR apps, something I expect to be very clear at their Build Conference coming up in mid-May.

I am a fan of VR and see its potential. But the more I play with and test VR products, like Mr. Henke of Niantic, I also see its pitfalls. This is something the folks in the VR space need to be watching closely and, if possible, architecting their products to take these issues into consideration.

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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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