12 Virtual and Augmented Reality

According to investment website The Motley Fool, virtual and augmented reality didn’t have a brilliant 2016, and that 2017 isn’t going to see that change much.

Essentially, the consensus among people who look at those markets are saying that both technologies are not quite mature enough for them to take off in meaningful ways this year. The cost of both AR and VR headsets is still too high – you’re looking at R9 000 to R12 000 and beyond for the two most popular VR headsets, and Microsoft’s Hololens (AR) is a R45 000 investment. Right now, it’s only really developers and well-heeled gamers who’re showing any significant interest.

On the other hand, Sony’s PlayStation VR has shown how a big company can adapt virtual reality and make it available relatively affordably, and Valve’s Vive and Facebook’s Oculus Rift headsets are slowly gaining traction despite their price tags, so the potential is definitely there. But business applications for it aren’t exactly common, as it’s only the biggest companies who’re even experimenting with it at the moment.

Marketing appears to be the best use of the technology by those big companies, but even that is falling a bit flat. Oculus Inc. recently closed 200 of its 500 VR demo stations in US retailer Best Buy’s stores due to “lack of public interest”, for example.

Mobile VR experiences are showing the biggest potential, as they don’t need anything but a smartphone and a Google Cardboard “headset” that can be bought for less than R200. Analysts expect that to help non-gaming people see the benefits of AR and VR, but so far there has been no “killer app” that has inspired millions to rush out and buy a full-on prosumer-grade headset on the basis of their mobile VR/AR experiences.

On the surface, it seems VR and AR are struggling; while that’s true of right now, the long-term outlook is that both technologies will see more widespread adoption in the future. Analysts saw the market valued at just $1.9 billion in 2016, but The Motley Fool’s quoted source reckons it’s going to skyrocket in the next few years, saying “The combined AR and VR market will be worth $121 billion by 2021, according to Digi-Capital.”

So don’t expect the SME down the street to suddenly offer a virtual reality walkthrough of its latest products. While it’s technically possible, it’s not likely to happen this year.

Clever uses of VR by big companies
  • Samsung: Product demonstrations including features and functionality with the Gear VR
  • Game of Thrones: Immersing people in a branded entertainment experience and drumming up hype at pop-up events designed to inspire sharing over social media
  • The New York Times: Storytelling with VR videos and 360-degree photos that’s inexpensively accessible via the NYT mobile app and Google Cardboard
  • Mercedes: Showing off their cars and the various customisation options available
  • KLM Airlines: Demonstrating their 787 Dreamliner aircraft with a VR walkthrough

Next: The Connected Home

Deon got his first taste of PC gaming at the tender age of 11 when his father bought an 8088 XT, ostensibly to "help him with his homework". Instead, it introduced him to Leisure Suit Larry, King Graham, Sonny Bonds and many more, and Deon has been a PC gamer and hardware enthusiast ever since. He landed his first professional writing gig in 2006 at a prestigious local PC magazine, a very happy happenstance as he got to write for a living about things he loves - tech, PCs, gaming, and everything in between. He's been writing about it all ever since, and loves every minute of it.