Remember Google Glass? While not precisely virtual or augmented reality, it was a spectacular failure for many of the same reasons that are holding back extended reality technology today. Perhaps we weren’t ready for this type of technology in 2012, but we are now, and virtual and augmented reality technology has only furthered. So, why aren’t we implementing extended reality in our everyday lives?
It seems that we talk of VR, and its associated technologies, as it’s ideal form — as if it is already perfected. The harsh reality is that virtual reality and augmented reality still have a long way to go before consumers accept it as a viable technology to use. VR technology shows enormous promise to benefit many industries, but for it to take off, it is going to have to overcome some hurdles to make VR into an actual reality.
Virtual Reality today
The VR/AR industry is currently in a race to see who can provide the best head-mounted display, content, and price. The Oculus Rift, HTC Vive Pro, Sony PlayStation VR, and Magic Leap are the latest leaders in providing the above elements, however, are they meeting what consumers are coming to expect?
Entertainment, gaming, education, and healthcare are just some of the industries we talk about with VR in mind. But, when we talk about virtual reality technology’s promise in benefiting these industries, we can be hopeful, but we also have to be patient. For instance, AR and VR are emerging technologies for patient-centered care, and are being researched to “help reduce the amount of anxiety a patient is feeling before and after surgery, [while] also being used to help treat post-traumatic stress disorder.” Similarly, AR “can be used for health wellness apps and surgical guidance.”
The healthcare field is making great strides toward investing in VR/AR technology, but for an everyday technology, we may not want to get our hopes up, as their full capability hasn’t quite been reached yet. We tend to have a picture in our head of a seamless user experience, while forgetting the price involved. Because of this, while virtual reality is still in its infancy stages, it will need to meet consumer expectations before it really takes off. Some factors that will need to be addressed include cost, quality of content, and how we will interact with the hardware.
The cost of Virtual Reality
To experience a high-end VR setting, such as the Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive, you will also need to purchase a platform that meets its computational requirements. For the headset itself, you are looking at roughly $600-$800, and premade VR ready PCs are available to run the minimum specs, costing you around $1000. For the everyday consumer, this is not exactly chump change.
It is not hard to imagine the difficulty for industries such as the educational system to budget for such technology. Many educational systems already have funding problems, so trying to buy even 10 of the above VR setups to gamify school subjects to better engage students would seem impossible. We can apply the same logic to any industry to understand that cost-effectiveness is one of the things holding VR from being widely accepted. It should be noted, however, that as the technology becomes further developed, prices will go down — but until costs become more feasible for the everyday consumer, we will have to wait.
The AR/VR UX problem
One major problem with extended reality technology is its many user experience problems. We expect to enter a virtual world and have the hardware and software respond to our every whim — in reality, if you’ve ever tried VR, there is a large learning curve for understanding movements and gestures, adapting to the real-life obstructions around you, and poor graphics.
In a perfect world, head-mounted displays would be less bulky and intrusive, providing a virtual experience while allowing us to see the real world around us. In some cases, this has led to damage of property, and even injury. AR will enable us to see the real world around us, but still with a bulky head-mounted display, and possibly other sensors, controllers, and cords. Furthermore, if you don’t have a platform that is capable of handling the graphics, your content can be clunky and can even cause nausea.
Overall, VR technologies should be seamlessly enhanced user experiences — immersing the user in a believable, easily interactive experience. Right now, there are just too many hang-ups in the technology to make the product and content at a reasonably affordable price. It is worth noting, however, that VR/AR technologies are continually being developed. It will only take time for these kinks to be worked out via user testing and advancements in technology. Once they get resolved, we may see a more VR/AR centric world.
Other factors holding AR/VR back
Aside from user experience challenges, there are many other issues that VR tech brings to the table — some old, and some new. A totally immersive environment could bring a whole new level of screen time problems, and it may bring on or exacerbate social concerns for individuals such as social isolation and screen addiction. As with many games, you could experience possible seizures, disorientation, nausea, and other unhealthy symptoms. In extreme cases, it is not out of the realm of possibility that PTSD could be induced or triggered by some elements of gaming.
Pokemon Go, while not totally immersive, has come with its fair share of injuries and even death. There is no telling how disastrous walking around with a headset will be. In fact, people are already running into walls, getting tripped up on furniture, and injuring themselves in their real-world environment by just trying to explore their virtual one. This user responsibility may be a more significant, ethical dilemma if AR goes mainstream.
Make no mistake about it, affordable and seamless virtual and augmented reality technology will enter our homes. Maybe not tomorrow, perhaps not even next year, but one day it will be perfected into that ideal version that we have made it out to be. Industries have poured money into AR/VR technology for the promise that it shows, and if VR can overcome the obstacles above — which it grows closer to every day — we can begin to implement it in our everyday lives.