With Facebook and Google hiring new generals to drive their VR efforts, broad consumer availability of this technology may finally be on the horizon.
Virtual reality has always been a figment in the vast landscape of consumer technology, an intangible buzzword that has existed only to whet and tantalize. To date nothing practical, of lasting significance, has really come out of it. Sure, there are 360 degree videos and the smattering of VR apps on the mobile stores, but these aren’t at all elements that have ever driven the mobile experience. In fact, it’s the set of generic applications comprising social media, selfie image editing and the like that have become the mainstay of our interaction with digital devices.
This may soon be about to change though.
A few days ago, when Xiaomi’s ever-recognizable Hugo Barra announced his leaving the company to make his way back to Silicon Valley, speculation was rife about the role he was headed to. Now that it is out in the open, Mark Zuckerberg’s revelation of Barra heading to Facebook to lead their Oculus VR efforts makes so much sense.
As he stated in his Facebook post, Zuckerberg revealed a lot when he highlighted the fact that Barra, during his time at Xiaomi, was responsible for “bringing innovative devices to millions of people.” For a long while Facebook’s Oculus VR has been lurking in the shadows, accessible only to the rarefied few who could afford its decidedly high price ($798 or approximately Rs 54,332, for the Oculus Rift along with a pair of Touch Controllers.) In bringing Barra on board, Zuckerberg appears to be keen to shift gears and move their VR offering toward the masses with products and prices that are more approachable. With Barra’s characteristic flair, and his being the one who played a major role in introducing millions to smartphones that were surprisingly well spec’d for their price, he appears to be just man to reprise this feat in the Facebook VR context. To Xiaomi-fy Oculus VR, if you will.
But it gets even more interesting. Over at HTC, it was announced just yesterday that Claude Zellweger, the company’s top designer for their Vive VR solution, is leaving to join Google in their Daydream VR team.
@vladsavov I am joining Google Daydream, so you can redirect your criticism:). — Claude Zellweger (@Claudibus)
It’s a parallel move with a timing that is almost synchronous to Barra’s.
Together though, these tectonic shifts in senior leadership between traditional mobile phone companies and the technology giants fueling the VR wave bodes well for end users. This perhaps marks an inflection point for VR, after which we could expect to see VR solutions -- both hardware and software -- actually veering toward end-consumers. If anything, it should spark an arms race in the field, which should trigger a long-awaited bootstrap for virtual reality and by extension even augmented reality.
With the progress in the hardware likely to leapfrog from here on in, it should also spark a wave of innovation on the software and content fronts, where game producers and video creators would now need to re-think their offerings in the VR and AR context faster than before.
And I believe this will also spawn a change in payment strategies for content. VR content, unlike traditional video for example, has the propensity to be consumed over and over. Being unscripted and open world by nature, a user could watch a VR video or play a VR game repeatedly, with each instance offering an altogether new experience. This repeat consumption model could prompt the platforms that offer VR content to adopt a subscription-based model other than a single-fee payment as is the case with most computer games and movies today.
With the battle lines drawn this could just be the year that virtual reality becomes pervasive, making its way into our wearables, smartphones and homes. It’s about time.