Are you wondering why we don’t all have a VR or AR headset on our heads?
I think there are three reasons: technological, economic, and psychological.
There is no revolution taking place at the moment. If we look back years ago, spatial computing (AR and VR) made great progress. But its adoption did not go from 0 to 100. It, perhaps, went from 0 to 10. So, it lacks the speed and disruption that is needed to talk about revolution.
The tendency to hyperbole is no surprise. It is widely used by the media. It seems to be the only possible way to attract the attention of readers and users of content that have increasingly reduced concentration skills.
But this hype has generated unrealistic expectations in the public. Let’s see the reasons for this more in detail.
The headsets are quite uncomfortable. They are not meant to be worn constantly. It is possible for a person passionate about video games to get lost in a VR game, but the feeling after each session might not be pleasant.
Little can be done for the mental uneasiness. VR works if it is immersive, if it feels like an alternate reality. And this is the problem when you take off the goggles: it takes a little to reconnect to the real world.
For physical discomfort, the solution will clearly be lighter devices, and improving the technology to avoid nausea. This is caused mostly by poorly made experiences, but it is a problem because it creates a negative memory.
Even though the AR/VR headset shipments grew in 2021, reaching 11.2 million units, that number is actually not a big one in terms of mass adoption. The low figure of sold headsets leads to a second technological problem.
At the moment no killer app has come out. There is no one single app that is world-renowned. Especially for AR, with the exception of Pokémon Go (for mobile). Companies do not yet have the security of ROI, and do not invest in content, which causes a slower adoption. According to research, in 2020, lack of content was the number one VR adoption barrier.
A third problem binds the two above. Stand-alone headsets are not powerful enough to support refined games. Tethered headsets cost much more and also need a high-performance computer. As a result, they sell less. With a smaller potential audience, it makes no sense to invest in disruptive content.
AR headsets don’t have apps for the general public yet. And apps on smartphones and tablets are impractical. It is nice to see augmented content on a screen and to interact with it, but holding the device all the time is not.
If I spend 400 euros to have a stand-alone headset, we can fairly state that I will not go bankrupt. But if I spend, for example, 50 or 60 euros for games that last an afternoon or that are beta versions, I’ll think about it a bit.
For example, Vader Immortal l is gorgeous for a Star Wars fan. But it is disappointing for its short duration and it does not help the case to know that it is part of a trilogy (so to finish it, more money)!
The Walking Dead: Saints and Sinners is more elaborate. Too bad they forgot the possibility to save your progress whenever you want. Not very user-friendly.
We should add that at the time of writing, a global problem that affected the costs is also causing delays in deliveries: components for electronics are difficult to find. So it’s also hard to get the hardware.
But, the headsets are the least important obstacle. In the corporate environment, VR and AR experiences can cost figures that do not always fall within the availability of companies. The perception of value is subjective, but we can safely say that a marketing campaign with VR or AR will not cost as much as one made with billboards and flyers (still much less than one made on TV, anyway).
A training program that uses VR certainly costs more than a PDF with a teacher in the classroom, videos and photos.
The same goes for an AR marketing campaign. Communication agencies are seriously giving it a try with campaigns that use AR for their customers, but they are often in competition with other agencies and the price becomes paramount. So the cost matters.
Psychological reasons can all be summed up in one word: mistrust.
If you tried a badly-made experience, you did not like it and you will not have a good memory of it.
Maybe you felt sick. There are some people that are particularly sensitive to VR. Or it may have been because the technology was still in its infancy and nausea was common to many. Or because, again, the experience was badly done and did not take into account certain things. For example, at the beginning, making 360 shots of cars on a race track was equal to almost certain nausea. Now it is no longer like that.
However, if for any or more of these reasons you have felt sick, you might not want to try again.
With AR, there is another friction point: downloading the app. Now with WebAR, this friction is partially solved, but not entirely.
Clearly all of the above negatively affects the demand, which slows down content production.
I tried to explain the various reasons why we are not yet in a world like the one imagined by Keiichi Matsuda in Hyper-Reality film, or we do not yet have VR as in Ready Player One.
For those of us who work in the field, the invitation is: think about the present. There are sufficiently exciting stories, and no need to pontificate about communion, democratization, revolution, etc.
To the final users, I suggest not paying attention to click-bait titles and news. There is no revolution coming, there is certainly a strong push on technology, but mass adoption is still far away.
About the Guest Author(s)
Andrea Roberto was born in Italy, studied Eastern Asian Languages and Culture (Chinese + Russian) at University, and worked in China for 12 years. In 2017, he started the VR journey with Augmenta Srl. Andrea is passionate about languages (speaks 5 + 1), and has been studying marketing and behavioral science applied to marketing for two years. He’s a tech enthusiast but no nerd, focusing on the use of the tech, not on the tech itself.