Why Isn’t Brilliant AR/VR Everywhere Yet? Four Factors Driving Tipping Point

Wonder why despite all the excitement and hype about Augmented Reality (AR) and the frenetic energy around Virtual Reality (VR) that neither of these is everywhere yet? Don’t know what the big deal is about turning around and looking behind you all the time? Really cannot see why there are no better use cases than those for which just two dimensional video would suffice? What features will push these technologies into widespread adoption? When and how is the tipping point?

In my view AR/VR need to address the following four questions in order to reach the compelling value proposition required for adoption at scale:

  • Training video/AR/VR is great but how does it tell me what am I doing wrong? Or prevent it?

I have written about VR before and compared it to a drug that might destabilize humanity in “Take VR, Add 3D Printed Food. Will Anyone Stop Playing?”. Full VR — which is akin to artificial and permanent nirvana cannot possibly be good for society as a whole. However, I do follow the AR/VR space in the hope that some elements of these technologies can be adopted on a wide scale. My company Novus Laurus just created an AR’ish experience for museums which allows a user to use their phone camera to image-recognize an exhibit and launch an interactive video about the exhibit. I go to events and conferences about AR/VR on and off. Instead of giving me good answers to the above questions, all I hear are ravings about machine specs, some brand that lets you see inside their packaging without unwrapping or yet another virtual zombie experience by yet another VR company. Here are training, brand sampling, surgery, and drug discovery examples that made it to press. I readily admit that even as it stands VR can be pretty immersive … especially with a timely trick in the real world (near the end):

However, for AR/VR to reach widespread adoption, the four governing factors will apply. Lets dig a bit deeper into them:

Am I Doing This Right? Training is the primary use case for AR/VR. Putting learners through a training program with performance stats visible to the learner is good application. However, when the user does something incorrectly or attempts to check exactly how they went wrong, all they can do is run the training simulation again. Perhaps a somewhat useful thing to do would be to provide training simulations of the different kinds of errors. However, a true elevation of experience and actual solution to the problem would be to go from where the user made their mistake to showing why its wrong and how to correct it. I asked about this at a conference at PTC where a product manager was touting their VR platform. The answer I got was that there would be some facetime phone calls integrated. We already have the ability to re-read training manuals and consult with someone else. What does AR/VR add to that? And what is the great advantage over just 2D interactive video?

Can It Be More Than Visual? 3D video has started to pop up everywhere. Human awareness however is acclimatized to our front view and we rarely in real life turn around to look. So, do we even need 3D experiences and video? And if 3D video was that in demand, what is the difference between AR/VR and 3D video? Some minor recording and real time analysis? What other senses can the virtual reality engage? Auditory? Olfactory? Gustatory? Tactile? 3D audio exists too but the requires equipment to create and experience. Olfactory and Digital Scent Technology seems to exist but is still early stage. Gustatory does not exist yet. Tactile exists as hacks by Disney. Till other sensory perceptions are integrated into VR, it is not much better than 3D video. The use cases so far for AR/VR have been about cutting out other visuals rather than really adding to the visual experience with more than minor user path options.

Many People Experience? Multi user VR exists but the experience is nothing more than individualized views of the same things. For the following two reasons multiple people interacting with each other or the same object does not yet work. Firstly, the headgear and equipment required to deliver the experience necessarily divorces it from reality and makes it solitary. Secondly, syncing the virtual world and consequences of user actions to all participants is a computational Matterhorn. Imagine two people in completely different geographies touching hands or dancing with each other in VR. Imagine them chasing the same alien or zombie and wrestling the zombie together. VR technology to support something like that is still in research phase. Adoption at scale requires reasonable multi person capability. Even mobile though a single person technology was really about communication with others.

Cost and Ease? Arranging AR or VR experience is both technology and video. Most companies have barely gotten into the video experience. In fact a large number of commercial or similar interests function on just text and the odd picture. Given this, they can neither manifest the expertise, expense or compelling user experience that would drive AR/VR. The companies that are creating 3D pictures of products by manually painting them in some graphics software will never finish their portfolios or keep up when portfolios change. Making 3D scanning or recording of video easy and cheap enough for in house brand marketers is the only way AR/VR will achieve any utilitarianism. Regular 2D video production is atleast $1000/minute. Multiply with factors for portfolio volume and 3D production and you have unjustifiable costs. The expertise required to set up on an AR or VR platform is required on top of all this. There simply is not an easy and cost effective way to pull AR/VR experiences together. This prohibits scale.

So long as these experiences and costs are not adequately addressed, AR/VR will be yet another fad, a game for nerds and gamer geeks, just a cute feather in some innovation team’s hat, and unlikely to get my investment dollar.

Exploring boundaries on various fronts to make new culture — CEO, Investor, Philanthropist, Business Strategist, Technologist, Film maker, Kidlit Author

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