VR was officially born this week, but an older sibling quietly stole its milk and cookies. Virtual Reality has enjoyed a bunch of birthdays this year. Google and Samsung both announced cheap headsets. Sony released an expensive one for the Playstation 4. Even the venerable old kid’s toy ViewMaster released an iPhone compatible 3D toy.
Modern VR, however, begins in 2012 with the Kickstarter for Oculus Rift. The Virtual Reality headset induced such a global nerdgasm that Facebook swept in and bought the start up for two billion US dollars. Mark Zuckerberg lauded it as “a new communication platform”.
The platform went live this week when Oculus founder Palmer Lucky personally delivered the first commercially available unit to a customer in Alaska. Back in 2012 that moment seemed sci-fi distant.
Now that it’s here, it’s a little underwhelming. Partly it’s because so many competitors have already launched their rival systems. Partly it’s because Oculus comes into the world as a very expensive accessory for a very expensive gaming computer. It will cost more than a thousand dollars locally, and unless you’re hooking it up to a high end gaming PC or console… fuggedaboutit!
With all those Zuckerbucks in the bank, the aptly named Mr Lucky can carry the hefty price point. Facebook’s chief poobah is savvy enough to recognise the limits of version one. When he dropped a couple of billion on Oculus, Zuckerberg tagged immersive gaming as the obvious entry point to the market.
“But this is just the start,” he said. “After games, we’re going to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences. Imagine enjoying a court side seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face – just by putting on goggles in your home.”
It’s the goggles though, that cripple mass adoption. For now all the high end VR headsets are big-ass, complicated setups with multiple points of frustration built in. At the low end, however, in both price and complexity, Google’s Augmented Reality plans took one small step/giant leap forward as Palmer Lucky was taking off his snow shoes for the flight home.
Google’s camera app was rumoured to be getting AR functions. What would that mean? Try point, click and search an image for embedded information such as restaurants, transit, and shopping recommendations.
Augmented Reality isn’t anywhere near as immersive as virtual reality, but that’s its killer edge. It can leave the media room and you don’t even have to geek out with a pair of Google Glasses to wear it. It’s in your pocket.
This isn’t bleeding edge technology. It’s been around for a while across all the mobile platforms. But with the inevitable hype surrounding all the tentpole VR releases this year, AR — which is a more mature and, frankly, a much more useful technology — is likely to make more money in the world of real things.