Many anticipate virtual reality (VR) to be the next big thing to revolutionize our lives. Billions of dollars have already been spent on research and development of VR technologies, and companies have finally started shipping VR headsets to consumer. Perhaps we are experiencing the transition from current smartphone era to the next generation of computing. Following is a brief discussion on virtual reality and its applications, marketability and future.
VR is certainly not a new concept, but the right technology was missing to mainstream virtual reality and augmented reality (AR) for the past couple of decades. Some early attempts to build VR products in the early 1990s failed to prototype and monetize. The key culprit was the lack of technology to build quality and engaging VR ready applications. Mobile computing has undergone an exponential growth in recent years. Lightweight portable gizmos have managed to squeeze in plenty of processing power, resolution and movement tracking capabilities to provide an immersive VR experience. As a result, proponents of VR are positive that it is ready to take off as the next big thing.
Interest towards VR has been on the rise since the beginning of the current decade. Investments are at staggering billions with many VR startups being funded by technology giants. Acquisition of VR Startup Oculus by Facebook in 2014 for a staggering $2 billion mark. Google, Sony and Disney are among many others who have poured millions into research and development of VR. Magic Leap, a Florida based VR startup, managed to raise $793.5 million in a new funding campaign led by Alibaba, the Chinese ecommerce giant. The startup previously received nearly $592 million in funding, with Google being the biggest investor. According to PitchBook analysts, investments in VR totaled approximately $602 million in 2015. Digi-Capital reports that over $1.1 billion was invested in VR in the past two months alone. It also predicts that VR technologies will explode into a $150 billion market opportunity by 2020. Another research by SuperData, a market intelligence firm, suggests that consumers will buy around $5.1 billion worth VR related gizmos and software in 2016. The numbers are huge, and are suggestive of the exponential growth of VR and its promising future.
It’s highly anticipated that virtual reality gaming will form most of the VR market share in its early years of adoption. Oculus Rift has already hit the shelves, and competitor products like HTC Vive and PlayStation VR will soon follow the lead. These VR products promise an immersive gaming experience to the consumers; however, their applications are not confined to the realm of gaming. Other interesting areas where VR would score big include education, entertainment, healthcare, retail, arts, architecture, sports and tourism.
One good example of applying VR for education is Toyota’s TeenDrive365 campaign aimed at educating teens about pitfalls of distracted driving. It makes use of the Oculus Rift and a software application installed in a stationary car to challenge users to drive while they are being distracted.
Google Expeditions is a program allowing students to experience VR field trips with the help of a smartphone and a VR viewer like Google Cardboard. Imagine visiting the White House, the Great Wall of China and the red planet in one single day. With Google Expeditions students can take 100+ virtual field tours at the comfort of their classrooms, and the library of virtual trips is continuously growing.
VR also has the potential to revolutionize ecommerce, providing users with immersive virtual tours of stores without restricting them to catalogues of products. In exploring arts and architecture, or visiting museums users can explore and experience things at the comfort of their homes, without the hassle of expensive trips. VR could also enhance offshore outsourcing, providing a richer experience extended beyond traditional approaches of communication. Entertainment is another major area where VR would perform big. It could take 3D viewing experience to the next level, allowing viewers to feel their presence inside the movies and games.
Technologies behind VR
In VR, viewers are tricked to believe and perceive a different environment than the one they are already in with the help of a bunch of software algorithms and hardware tricks. VR headsets track the movements of the head and eyes to modify the image the user sees. This experience is further enriched with surrounding 3D sounds. Rendering a 3D environment on a two dimensional display is achieved by projecting the feeds at slightly different articles so that brain perceives a 3D image.
In order to provide an immersive user experience with VR, the images have to be rendered with a higher frame rate of at least 90 fps, in contrast to 30 fps typically seen on TV. Hiccups in frame rates could create VR sickness; hence, they have to be eliminated. Sensors tracking user’s movements should have the ability to communicate with a PC at a similar rate. Hence. for a proper seamless VR experience powerful computer hardware is required.
Growing Demands for VR developers
With the advent of iPhone and Android smartphones, developers started pushing millions of apps into both the Apple’s app store and Google Play store, and these markets are saturated with thousands of applications competing in similar categories. VR creates new, richer opportunities for developers to expand the horizons of mobile app development and come up with innovative, immersive apps. According to a Google blog post, more than 5 million Google Cardboard fans have joined the fold 19 months after the rollout. The number of cardboard app installs via Google Play has surpassed a 25 million mark, with a staggering 10 million VR related app installations in the past two months alone. It further reveals that more than 350K hours of YouTube videos have been watched in VR mode using the Cardboard viewers, and that more than 750K VR photos have been snapped with cardboard camera. These numbers are impressive, and surely promising.
Currently, Gaming Industry is one of the most lucrative businesses adopting VR tech. A report by Grand View Research Inc. has predicted that applications of VR in gaming will be worth more than $9.55 billion by 2022. Another report by the research firm KZero estimates that by 2018, the number of users paying for VR content will exceed 28 million. Software is bound to play a huge role in achieving these impressive milestones, and naturally the demand for developers versed with VR programming is on the rise.
It was not long ago that smartphones started taking world by storm, nor that cloud computing started transforming businesses. But technology is not slowing down, and apparently it is ready to unveil the next big thing hyped to transform the world. VR is expected to revolutionize many industries including gaming, entertainment, education, science and medicine in the years to come, exploding into a lucrative $120 billion worth market by 2020. Well-known companies including Microsoft, Google, Facebook, HTC, Samsung, Sony and many startups are working on integrating VR into our lives. Affordable approaches to experience virtual reality, like Google’s Cardboard viewer, are gaining popularity at a rapid rate with impressive usage statistics. VR packs a huge potential to be the next big thing, but its ultimate success will depend on many factors including affordability, usefulness and interest from the average consumer.