Virtual reality has had a couple waves of hype and the most recent one was earlier this year. There was pretty much no way VR or AR were going to live up to that hype, but who cares? The media’s opinion isn’t going to affect the mainstream success of virtual and augmented reality. Some people are early adopters and some people aren’t. That’s just the way it is. All the hype has always been just that. And hype is almost always bullshit. Even this article (at least the title) is somewhat bullshit. There’s obviously several things that will happen before VR and AR are mainstream, but we can all use common sense to figure those things out: cheaper and better performance, duh! These are things that will happen naturally because they are the result of a process that has ultimately led to where we are now (the constant competition to produce better smart phones, faster internet speeds, and better GPU’s). This process is not going to stop. It’s actually going to increase, but not just because big players (Facebook, Apple, HTC . . .) are involved. That’s part of it, but it really has more to do with the exponential nature of information technology.
Our brains evolved to think linearly to avoid environmental threats, which rarely have exponential qualities – for instance, an example Ray Kurzweil gives in his speeches is the scenario of a predator running across an open field. We don’t expect the animal to double it’s speed over and over again as it gets closer to us. Our brains just take the speed into account, project a straight line between us and the threat, and then decide how to react. But, as he points out, information technology doesn’t accelerate like a predator. When we see the difference between point A and point B sometimes we assume that it’s going to take the same amount of time to get from point B to point C on so on, because we are using our old monkey brain thought process.
While it’s true that the VR of the nineties isn’t so different than the experience of today, there are key differences: price and mobility. You can take your phone, put it on your face, and experience the same thing that would have been unaffordable for anyone outside of academics or the military 20 years ago. The continued progress of information technology and thus virtual reality isn’t going to be linear. It won’t take 20 more years to get from point B to point C. So all the people who don’t believe we are close to fully immersive AR and VR may not be taking exponential progress into consideration. What kind of VR/AR experiences do you think will be possible in the next 5 years? Before you answer, consider how exponential progress works . . . for instance: when you count linearly . . . “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8” compared to counting exponentially “1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128” things don’t seem all that different at step 8 or even a little higher (maybe you could compare this to the difference between 90’s and current VR). But once you get past these first differences the progression becomes much more apparent. By step 30, the linear sequence is on 30, but the second sequence? The exponential sequence? That’s on 1 BILLION. So, cheaper hardware and more realistic experiences? Those things will happen naturally, but they don’t have to happen in order for virtual reality to become mainstream.
SO WHAT IS THE ‘ONE THING’ THAT WILL MAKE VR MAINSTREAM??? It’s great content, right? That depends how you define “great”. The kind of blockbuster one-size-fits-all virtual reality experiences everyone in the media believes are going to push VR/AR into the mainstream are definitely interesting, but even if Steven Spielberg produced the most amazing piece of VR work to date it wouldn’t be enough to make most people go out and buy hardware. The mainstream success of virtual and augmented reality isn’t about great content, it’s about personalized content. When it becomes affordable to experience deeply personal virtual reality content, the factories won’t be able to build screens fast enough to supply the demand. There are already pretty amazing content creation tools available and their power and ease of use will progress the same way the headsets are going to progress (not linearly). If you’re interested in virtual reality I encourage you to educate yourself on the current creation tools available to you (namely Unity3D) and start making your own custom experiences in virtual reality. It’s not as hard as you might think and Unity is 100% free for personal use. You don’t have to pay anything until you make $100,000 from your creations. And for those of you who have the technical ability I encourage you to make even more powerful and intuitive tools. The faster we can create cool things for ourselves the faster we can create personalized experiences for others, which will lead to successful custom virtual reality content creation businesses. It’s not about less wires. It’s not about more realism. It’s not about less weight. It’s not about more comfort. And NOW, it’s not even about the price. The current prices of head-mounted-displays might be more money than the mainstream audience wants to spend in order to experience what SOMEONE ELSE thinks is cool, but we might all be surprised by how much people are willing to pay for experiences when those experiences literally make their dreams become virtual realities.