Unpacked: Consumer Interest in Virtual Reality

With Tom’s article on VR today, I thought I would share a stat from a VR-focused study we did. It is no secret VR is early and we shouldn’t expect the mainstream to have experienced it yet. I still wanted to gauge what the current market sentiment is as we seek to understand the market today.

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When we look at current sentiment, nearly half of respondents have either no interest or have not heard of virtual reality, while just over half have some interest or is very interested. We live in an increasingly technologically savvy world so it is not surprising there is interest in the idea of a new way to experience content and media. Most consumers, 76% of them, have yet to experience a true VR solution.

Within the past year, VR solutions had gotten good enough that those who experienced it could see its potential. I emphasize that is the stage of the market we are in and the job I have to do analysis of. Right now, we are focusing on its potential. It is unhelpful to judge the current crop of products as they will change dramatically over the next 5 years. What is helpful is to spend time thinking about the potential of what we have experience of so far.

I have personally experienced every major VR/AR solution on the market or will be in the next year. I’m optimistic others who experience these solutions over the next year will be able to see the potential. Currently in my house, we are vetting the full Gear VR and Oculus experience. Both Samsung and Oculus continue to add new content in the way of games, videos, pictures, movies, and more, which keeps the experience fresh. My girls love to show their friends a video where divers take you scuba diving in many exotic locations. You explore the ocean floor, coral reefs, and learn about different underwater species in each location. They also show their friends a tour of Disney World that takes you on roller coasters and shows many highlights of the parks.

What I’ve enjoyed the most is having friends or family over who I help to experience VR for the first time and to get their feedback and reactions. Every single person was blown away by how immersive it was and they came up with many use cases from travel, education, entertainment and more they thought were interesting.

Imagine you had a 360-degree capture camera and used it for family events, kids soccer games, etc. You would be able to capture moments and re-live them on more than just a flat screen. But the one experience which has still stood out to me today was the Sony Morpheus. Gaming will clearly play a role in this first wave of adoption. If you play and love video games, as I do, VR is going to change your life. Sony has an installed base of over 36 million PS 4 consoles, all of which can support their VR solution. I expect Sony to be the winner of this first phase.

Ultimately however, the units need to be untethered. Solutions which require cables will not stand the test of time and ones that either use a phone or, more likely, have the technology built right into the headset like the Microsoft Hololens, will ultimately win the day. I believe in the cordless solutions since, after experiencing them, it becomes clear you need freedom to move around. Especially with those that will blend both virtual and augmented reality together.

There is still an odd hostility around VR. I experience it on Twitter whenever I show pictures of my kids enjoying their experience with it. As to be expected, certain demographics do not like change. New things are approached with skepticism. Fortunately, the demographics that will drive this technology forward, the younger generation, have no such reservation.

Now, no one believes we will all walk around with our heads in VR/AR headsets all day. But they will be a tool similar to how our PCs, TVs, smartphones, tablets, and smartwatches are tools today. Our modern technological tools are good for work, play, and education and VR/AR will fit nicely into the mix.

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Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio

6 thoughts on “Unpacked: Consumer Interest in Virtual Reality”

  1. Still haven’t had my first VR experience. Can’t wait to see what Google comes up with. Rumor has it (source is the WSJ) that they’re working on a dedicated headset, meaning it isn’t an Oculus that requires a computer, nor is it a piece of cardboard that requires a phone, but an actual bonafide “helmet” similar to what Microsoft is doing with Hololens.

    1. The issue is cost though, especially since there’s almost perfect hardware duplication between a computer/phone and a VR headset.: lots of GPU, a fair amount of CPU, and supporting circuitry (RAM, storage, network access, sound,…) and in the case of phones also display. An unlocked Samsung GS6 is $450 for a 4 million pixels 5.1″ screen @580 dpi; a Rift is $600 for a 2.5mpx 7″ screen, and besides that more expensive dedicated gizmo, you need a $1k+ computer.

      I’m not sure if the advantages of dedicated hardware (if any really, the screen which is a key component seems to favour premium Androids, though I’m sure other elements especially GPU push back the other way) outweigh that huge cost + audience issue, especially with lack of scale significantly hindering both the hardware (see the difference in screen quality; a GS6 with HDMI-in would be vastly superior to a Rift) and content. Millions may try out “value” VR with a $1 piece of cardboard, I don’t see many shelling out $2k-ish for the “premium” or “luxury” version, and you end up with the usual devices-content chicken and egg problem.

      1. Computers were pitched to the public as devices to help balance your checkbook and store food recipes. Both activities are practically free to do with paper and pencils, but people bought those $3,000 computers (in 1980s money) anyway. I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss dedicated VR devices, what with vinyl of all things making a resurgence, and book sales, as in ink on paper, increasing last year for the first time since 2007.

        1. Maybe. I never quite bought the “balance your checkbook” motive… it did serve to some as an alibi to purchase an expensive toy, but I don’t know of anyone who actually used it for that early on. Ditto recipes.

          I don’t think VR has the aura that computers had. It doesn’t enable new activities the way pre-internet computers did games, HW/SW tinkering, and socializing (AOL/BBS/Minitel). Maybe I’m wrong and in 5 years we’ll all be Keeping Up with the VRardashians, and looking at goggles instead of monitors, but right now I see neither a credible alibi nor an actual fun / educative / productive reason to buy. Plus deep down, I think Consumers are still digesting the Internet and Mobile.

          You’re right that people sometimes spend a lot on trendy stuff though. But not any new thing (cf 3D), a Thing doesn’t have to be new (vinyls), it must somehow get the Thing aura that VR doesn’t have, mostly for making users look like dweebs.

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