Virtual Reality, which was the buzzword of 2016, received tremendous response from investors, developers and tech pioneers. Companies like Facebook, Google, Sony, and HTC strengthened their foothold by jumping on the Virtual Reality bandwagon. From the Facebook acquisition of Oculus to Google and Sony launching their VR headsets to provide an immersive viewing experience to the consumers, VR has again risen from the ashes, which was once considered a forgotten technology.
Surprisingly, there is a sense of euphoria among Indians who have welcomed this emerging medium wholeheartedly as compared to its western counterpart, however, amidst the VR euphoria, companies have bombarded the consumers with poorly targeted commercials and haven’t focused on educating them about Virtual Reality, which has resulted in creating what is called Decision Paralysis. There exist a wow factor on experiencing the simulated environment, but to convert it to a decision-making process where the consumers actually buy the experience is still yet to be addressed. This is because of the paucity of awareness and value proposition of the product among the consumers.
Here is how I think Virtual Reality can mainstream its niche market.
Price and Quality
Currently, the Indian and Global market is flooded with affordable Mobile VR Headsets. One can easily buy a DIY version of Google Cardboard for less than five hundred rupees, however, the real issue with these devices is that they don’t deliver a high-quality immersion, that can create a sense of nausea to those who are viewing the content. On the other hand, there are high-end devices like PlayStation VR and HTC’s Vive which works with VR capable computers or laptops, but there exuberant pricing makes it an unreasonable purchase. What Google is doing is really commendable, they are not only creating a VR Ecosystem but also making hardware affordable without compromising on the quality.
Education about Virtual Reality is of utmost importance. Imagine changing a classroom into a virtual room and educating the students in an infotainment manner. This will not only engage them but provide a completely different level of a learning experience. VR session can take place not just in schools, but also in events and seminars. For e.g. with Microsoft Hololens, students of anatomy can learn and understand the bodily structure of humans in 3d and navigate through layers of skin.
One Killer App
The proliferation of smartphone and apps have made our lives easier and more connected. It won’t be wrong to say that our morning coffee/tea has been replaced with smartphones in our hands for us to check notifications and updates. Be it Google’s PlayStore or IOS App Store, one can find millions of apps for different purposes like cooking, travelling, entertainment and much more. A consumer can easily find the app and engage with them because of the seamlessness in discovering them. But that’s not the case with Virtual Reality. VR apps which are currently available on app stores provide meagre level to VR, but they lack a utilitarian point. If we can develop an app which allows you to shop or interact with the product then we can see its resonance in minds of the consumer rather than just a wow experience. For e.g. an app which replicates a retail outlet and allows consumers to shop just like they do it offline can captivate the attention of a mass audience.
Media plays a huge role in educating the masses about social, politics and economics trends. They can be the biggest drivers of bringing Virtual Reality to the masses. Media houses can simply learn from what The New York Times, a news brand, did to attract the Gen Z community. They partnered with Virtual Reality company, Within, to create a film named Displaced, a VR Story which puts viewers in refugee camps and desolate villages, where they can witness firsthand the lives of the displaced refugees. To make viewers experience the heartbreaking film, they distributed a million VR cardboard boxes to its subscribers, to make content viewing accessible to its consumers. Wouldn’t it be great if we could immersive ourselves in the news, rather than just read it online or offline?
Games like Pokemon Go enjoyed mainstream success because it ushered interaction with the real world, whereas Virtual Reality, on the other hand, is an escapism from reality. In real world people are able to view, interact and muti-task with objects around them whenever or wherever they want to, but in VR it is difficult to perform multiple activities as one is completely circumscribed to an artificial environment. There is a certainly a need for mixed reality devices which mixes the real and virtual world to provide a new and engaging environment and doesn’t require a smartphone or a high-end PC to operate.
Virtuality Continuum by Milgram
To conclude, I would like to quote what Mark Zuckerberg said, “Virtual Reality was once a dream of science fiction. But the Internet was also once a dream and so where computers and smartphones. The future is coming and we have a chance to build it together.”