Are Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality the next computing platform?

There’s a lot of discussion these days about what the next breakout computing platform will be: wearables, the Internet of Things, Bitcoin, VR/AR, or something else that we haven’t heard about yet?

I think VR/AR is a strong candidate, since it feels like a logical extension of our current computing platforms. Previous VR/AR attempts have failed because the technology wasn’t ready yet. However, we’re now seeing some good (albeit early) evidence that hardware and software are both advanced enough to deliver a solid VR/AR experience.

There’s already a strong early adoption of Virtual Reality in gaming and entertainment. At this year’s Sundance, nine of the thirteen submissions in the New Frontier program featured VR. Oculus’ Story Studio released its first short, Lost, and plans to put out four more VR cinema experiences this year. And the Virtual Reality documentary, Project Syria, is showing VR’s powerful ability to affect us emotionally by letting us walk in someone else’s shoes.

VR dramatically enhances the experience in both gaming and entertainment applications. And unlike the challenges facing Google Glass adoption, it’s socially acceptable to wear a bulky VR headset in the privacy of your own home or theater.

Beyond gaming and entertainment, we’re also seeing practical applications for VR as well, including trauma treatment and education. Using Microsoft’s HoloLens, scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory will soon be exploring Mars using holograms of Mars Rover images. They’ll be able to work as if they’re walking right on the surface of Mars.

The future outlook for VR/AR

While I’m bullish on Virtual and Augmented Reality, some key questions need to be answered:

  1. How long will it take to make the VR experience so solid and comfortable that you can spend hours with it? Right now, VR is best suited for short experiences.
  2. How long will it take for VR/AR to cross over into mainstream adoption? We’ll need to see smaller headsets and more affordable technology first.
  3. Who will win the VR/AR space: start-ups or incumbents? Virtual Reality is one area where the big players are heavily investing their resources: Facebook/Oculus, Samsung, Google, and Microsoft. Apple is apparently looking for virtual reality app engineers. On the start-up side, Magic Leap is working on something interesting in AR (while also raising over $500M in Series B).
  4. What are the productivity use cases? It seems that the biggest opportunity for AR productivity tools centers around the non-desk workforce…as a way to give doctors, pilots, field technicians and other mobile workers the relevant information they need to do their job without having to break their concentration to look at a mobile device. Other opportunities exist for learning/teaching, video conferencing, etc. How quickly can these applications be developed and adopted, and what other use cases are out there?

It is still very early times for AR / VR and it will be exciting to watch this space over the coming years.

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