Virtual Reality Might Not Be the Next Big Thing; Here’s Why The “Next Big Thing” Doesn’t Always Become So Big
About four years ago, 3D-printing touted as “Industrial Revolution 2.0”. Consequently, stocks like 3D Systems and Stratasys soared, based on hopes that the growing technology would make the transition to everyday usage in manufacturing, and perhaps, eventually, even in the home. Although 3-D technology continues to develop, that revolution never materialized and the stocks have wilted since the boom.
Almost the same can be said about 3D entertainment. 3D TV, along with movies, were once expected to revolutionize the way we watch video. That too never happened. There are a number of theories as to why this is so. One of such theories is that movies didn’t make 3D an integral part of the story-telling process, but the fundamental reason seems to be that audiences just didn’t like it or need it that much. The added expense involved wasn’t worth it, and several reports found that users simply weren’t interested in wearing 3D glasses. Popular movie critic, Roger Ebert and film editor, Walter Murch observed that the technology just didn’t work with human eyes.
Another similar example can be found in the short life of Alphabet’s Google. In 2012, when it was unveiled, the wearable tech device was hailed by Time as one of the best inventions of the year, and it was paraded through media outlets, big and small, with celebrities testing it out. Rather than sweeping the nation, however, the product was knocked by critics, and found to be invasive. Businesses such as bars and movie theaters banned the device, wary of being filmed. Google ultimately had no choice but to pull the plug.
Virtual reality, more than any technology today, is being billed as the next big thing. Facebook paid a massive $2 billion to acquire Oculus VR in 2014, with CEO Mark Zuckerberg claiming the technology will be groundbreaking as a social platform in the future. Facebook isn’t alone in this either. Google has since made available its Google Cardboard devices, and companies including Sony, HTC and Samsung are working on the new technology as well.
After decades of talk about virtual reality, the technology is finally garnering momentum, with takeoff seemingly imminent, and enthusiasm for it abounds. Still, there are a number of reasons that these new devices may not take over the way many of us expect.
A. No distinctive need for them
Most successful technologies were created to solve a particular problem, or make something easier. The smartphone, for instance, has been so successful because it gives users access to communication and productivity tools like email, text, phone, social media, and apps like interactive maps, in a wallet-sized gadget that fits in your pocket. The smartphone, in the traditional sense, did not do anything new. But it did make doing the everyday things we already do a lot easier.
Most other revolutionary devices followed this template. Smartphone evolved from the cell phone and the computer. The computer evolved, to a degree, out of the TV, which added a video component to radio.
B. Wearing the headsets just looks goofy
There’s no easy way to put this other than that the headsets simply do not look good. And people just aren’t used to encumbering themselves with these kinds of things, for entertainment, or really any reason. One of the reasons for Google Glass’ failure is that wearers of the device just looked goofy.
Whilst Mark Zuckerberg insists that VR can be a social platform, which sounds probable, putting on a headset to watch TV, for instance, ultimately separates you from the other people in the room.
C. Breakthrough devices aren’t common
It appears that, for every generation, a new tech device becomes ubiquitous. Since the 50s, we’ve witnessed the advent of several of those. First came the TV, then the computer, and today the smartphone. VR devices could probably follow this tradition and be the next step in the evolution, but plenty of devices have come and gone despite similar ambitions. GoPro cameras, as recently as last year, seemed poised to sweep the nation, but now that company is seeing declining sales.
Also worthy of note is the fact that most of the major tech giants have built their empires on services, rather than products. Alphabet and Facebook connect people to information, using those eyeballs to sell ads. Amazon.com connects buyers to people selling the stuff they want to buy while Microsoft and IBM sell software and cloud services. Apple alone, of the American tech giants, has risen to dominance through device sales, and the iPhone-maker has been hesitant to dive into virtual reality, choosing to focus instead on television and the automobile as its next big tech platform.
Mark Zuckerberg himself has said that he thinks it will take a decade for virtual reality to go mainstream. There is a lot that can happen between now and then, but plenty of challenges are in the way of VR becoming the next smartphone. In the words of an Oculus executive, “It’s really hard to get headsets on the heads of hundreds of millions of people.”