In the virtual reality realm, Oculus is at the top of its game, creating advanced virtual experiences ripe with consumer and enterprise potential. The company's actual reality isn't quite as cheery, thanks to allegations of intellectual theft.
This week an intellectual property lawsuit against Facebook-acquired Oculus went to trial in Northern Texas. The Oculus trial centers on an accusation by game developer ZeniMax Media that Oculus products are based on VR technology stolen from ZeniMax by John Carmack, who worked at ZeniMax before becoming CTO at Oculus.
Oculus, of course, disputes the claims. While testifying at the trial, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg chalked up the allegations to people "coming out of the woodwork" trying to grab a piece of Oculus' success. Ian Hughes, research analyst at 451 Research, isn't surprised by the lawsuit.
"The mass market awareness generated around VR in 2016 and the large investments made across the industry in hardware were bound to attract legal disputes, as what happened with smartphones," he said.
Should Facebook lose the suit, it could be on the hook for as much as $2 billion in damages and face the possibility of having its Oculus Rift headsetpulled completely off the market. Given the potential fallout from the allegations, I asked analysts what the trial portends for VR deployments in the enterprise. Their response? VR still has a way to go, but the technology will continue to forge ahead with or without Oculus, so businesses need to gear up.
"We don’t expect the Oculus trial to have a significant impact on VR adoption," said Beck Besecker, CEO and co-founder of AR and VR platform provider Marxent. "If Oculus headsets are pulled, other headsets will continue to propel the VR industry forward, and are already doing so."
These other headsets include HTC Vive, Samsung Gear VR and PlayStation VR, which are already on the market and being used by (a relatively small number of) consumers and businesses. That being said, Besecker noted that the price of VR headsets is still prohibitive for many consumers and businesses, so costs will have to come down before we see mainstream adoption.
Moreover, the price of head-mounted displays (HMDs) isn't the only factor that could inhibit VR adoption in the near-term, according to Becker. The content is simply too limited right now.
"While HMDs power the majority of existing VR applications and signify many people's first brushes with the technology, 3D content is really what is driving the VR industry forward," he said. And there isn't enough of it to go around. "3D content is being used not just for HMDs, but with smart phones and tablets to power virtual experiences."
Snap back to reality
Shortly after Facebook's $2 billion acquisition in 2014, Zuckerberg referred to VR as the next major computing platform. At the Oculus trial, a lawyer asked the Facebook CEO if that vision had been realized and Zuckerbergwas candid in his response, saying that it will take another five to 10 years and an additional $3 billion-plus before Oculus get to where he wants it to be. Forrester analyst J.P. Gownder gave his take, backed by Forrester data.
"VR will become an important tool for both consumers and businesses by 2020, but not something that's ubiquitous or the next computing platform," he said.
Forrester expects about 24 million American consumers to have a VR headset (either PC or mobile based VR) by 2020, which is considered mass market. Similarly, Forrester expects 22 million units to be used by enterprises in 2020 for business-to-employee scenarios like training, or for the product visualization and business-to-business-to-consumer scenarios already cropping up in retail and real estate.
"The smart companies are investing in this now, as consumers will soon come to expect immersive experiences in various aspects of life," said Besecker. "The technology is already scaling to solve real business problems for enterprises, with applications in retail, real estate, education, healthcare and more."
VR's potential is too great to ignore, but Gownder warns CIOs to focus on function, not flash.
"Make sure you are solving a tangible business problem," he said. "Too many VR experiments right now represent overinvestments in flashy applications with little return on investment. Working with business partners is a top priority."