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Tech Bytes: Virtual reality – Why is VR so slow to develop?

Tech Bytes: Virtual reality – Why is VR so slow to develop?

Virtual reality headsets have been around for decades, but the fascination for tech fans really began in the 1990s.

Initial VR headsets were basically just like watching movies on oversized ski goggles. Today, they’re mostly used for playing video games and taking interactive tours. VR headsets are often featured in commercials and funny video fails on social media. The reality is that a majority of Americans have never actually used one in real life.

“It’s a toy to most people,” says John Joyce, co-owner of CRS Technology Consultants. “What game can I play with it? It’s entertainment for the kids or when you get the family together.”

That could be changing. During a recent Tech Bytes segment on ABC7, John shared his thoughts on when VR headsets will be mainstream.

“The space is really heating up in the last few years,” John says. “Big names are getting into the space, and they’re all eyeing it as a growth opportunity.”

Beyond gaming, VR headsets also are incorporating business functions into their designs, potentially making them a device that could be commonplace in office settings.

Virtual reality in the present

Individuals unfamiliar with the virtual reality space should familiarize themselves with some terminology:

  • VR – Virtual Reality: A view that is a fully-immersive digital environment.
  • MR – Mixed Reality: A view of the real world with overlay of digital elements.
  • AR – Augmented Reality: A view where the real world and digital world overlap and interact.

Sony, Samsung, Google, Microsoft and others have offered VR headsets for years. After years of anticipation, Apple finally released its Apple Vision Pro in February 2024. Apple fans are rarely disappointed with product launches, and the Apple Vision Pro is impressive. According to the manufacturer’s description: It “seamlessly blends digital content with your physical space.” Vision Pro users can navigate using their eyes, hands and voice. It’s a computer, theater, gaming device, video player and more. The clarity is superb as the headset has more pixels than a 4K TV!

“For the most part, though, virtual reality hasn’t penetrated the U.S. market or any market the same way your smartphone has,” John says. “97% of American adults have a smartphone in their pocket; only 15-20% of U.S. households have some form of AR or VR.”

Despite the buzz surrounding the debut of Apple Vision Pro, there are three primary reasons why VR headsets aren’t yet a piece of technology found in every household:

  1. Lack of availability: Outside of Best Buy, few retailers stock VR headsets in store.
  2. Usage: People don’t know what they’d do with one. Non-gamers and non-techies don’t really see a use for it.
  3. Price: Ranges from $250 to $2,500 or more.

“As with any new emerging technology, price is going to either drive the adoption or slow the adoption,” John says.

Apple Vision Pro has many coveted features, but prices start at $3,499. With added storage, optical inserts, warranty coverage and tax, you’re looking at $4,000+. It’s not even remotely in the budget for most Americans.

“At the end of the day, that’s just simply not an accessible price point for the average person,” John says.

Virtual reality in the future

VR developers recognize virtual reality has shortcomings in its present form.

“That’s the device they can make today… it’s not the device they want to sell you tomorrow,” John says. “All of these companies are looking at it more like a pair of glasses that go on your face, and then there is that abstraction between you and the world.”

The potential revenue from creating a tech product that is in everyone’s homes – like a television or microwave – means billions of dollars.

“Silicon Valley is looking at that and saying that’s a huge growth market, but they also realize it’s not going to get there just by selling people another toy,” John says. “They want to bring it into the workplace and make it a productivity tool. How are they going to crack that barrier and have it be the next thing that 90+% of the populus wants to have?”

John continues: “The sky is the limit, obviously. At least, that’s what the companies will tell us because they want to sell us one tomorrow and the year after that and the year after that.”

John compares the development of VR headsets to the gradual evolution of cell phones over the past 25 years.

“It unlocks a whole new level of creativity for developers,” he says. “When we think about the smartphone when it first broke into the space, it was a way to make phone calls, exchange text messages and kind of browse the web. Now, so much of our digital lives happen on those devices that are in our pockets. This is potentially the next iteration of that as the devices get smaller and more portable, and can fit into your life a little bit easier.”

At one point, VR headsets needed a cord to connect to a gaming device or computer. Now, the headsets operate independently. That brings promise to businesses and corporations that feasibly can use VR headsets in the workplace.

“We laughably call them ‘face computers’ because there is a whole computer inside this set of plastic ski goggles with cameras, sensors and everything else,” John says. “You can connect it to your PC and have your entire Windows desktop show up. You can stand in a room full of virtual computer monitors and do everything from spreadsheets to meetings. That’s the promise of the future, and all these companies want to get there first.”

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