With 2017 coming to a close, we’re all curious to know what everyone will think looking back: Was 2017 the year when the hype surrounding virtual reality technology was finally realized to its full potential?
According to VentureBeat and Digi-Capital, some venture capitalists certainly hoped so, given that they invested $2.3 billion in AR and VR in 2016, over 300 percent more than the $700 million investments made in 2015. Blame it on Pokemon Go or media headlines screaming that 2016 was the year for virtual reality, but VR was everywhere in 2016. Or was it?
What really happened with VR in 2016
Last year’s huge VR hardware drops didn’t live up to marketing’s expectations: PlayStation VR and Oculus both sold decently but closed the year with under a million units sold. High prices and “clunky” headgear are two reasons gamers and tech geeks aren’t springing for VR at the rates projected.
But virtual reality isn’t at a full dead end. In fact, IDC reports that an estimated 2.3 million headsets were shipped in the first 3 months of 2017 alone. VR is improving and growing, but it may be safe to say that it’s gone in a slightly different direction than anticipated. Wouldn’t you rather spend $22 for a Google cardboard headset than pay $500 for a higher-end model? Probably. But that doesn’t mean high-end VR tech is dead. In fact, VR has passed the hype cycle and is taking baby steps toward maturity. The technology’s better than ever if you’re talking about factors like latency, frame rate, and GPU performance.
Still, by almost all accounts, it’s not quite where people want it to be. Sam Rosen of ABI Research told Business Insider that he believes VR is “a technology that will really start to show its true transformative capabilities five-plus years from now.” While it’s anyone’s guess whether that five-year mark will turn out to be accurate, it’s clear that 2017 isn’t the year of VR at the office.
Virtual reality doesn’t look all that real
VR is looking decent these days, but it’s not necessarily lifelike enough for actual simulations of real-world events. While it has the potential for training professionals in medicine, aviation, manufacturing, and countless other fields, it’s still too blurry for realistic workplace simulations. Graphics processing pro Jason Paul of NVIDIA did the math and told UploadVR his calculated conclusion that genuinely lifelike resolution is 20 years out.
However, Finnish startup Varjo Technologies is hard at work on a headset that promises 20/20 vision and sufficient resolution for actual workplace simulations. Lucky-duck CNN reporter Sara Ashley O’Brien got to test Varjo’s product, scheduled for release in 2018, and reported the headset was indeed “incredibly lifelike, even crisper than my naked eye.”
Working in VR is described as “crippling pain” and “reading drunk”
Factors like resolution aside, VR lacks one fundamental necessity for full, immediate workplace adoption: a true virtualized desktop where you can get stuff done without flailing your arms around while wearing a headset. Unless you’re lucky or specialized enough that you can use one app all day long, VR may not be what you need. While there are several apps that pull your desktop into virtual space, you’re still required to blindly use your mouse and keyboard.
Once the technology gets there, you can look forward to what The Guardian’s Alex Hern describes as a “little bubble of calm” where you’re quite literally blind to your coworkers’ antics and almost no one bothers you. Despite that calm, Hern’s experience completing an entire eight-hour workday wearing a VR headset was slightly less than positive thanks in part to “crippling pain” in his face and the illusion of “reading drunk” when he attempted to enlarge illegible text. Plus, Hern discovered that text entry without being able to see his keyboard or mouse was really difficult.
VR is too hot for your phone to handle
While VR could one day redefine the way global teams collaborate across time zones, it’s not yet overtaken videoconferencing as the predominant way to hold your daily stand-up meeting. It definitely won’t become a major tool for mobility until it’s mobile-compatible.
Mobile VR just isn’t a thing yet and won’t be until smartphone manufacturers change their ways, states tech researcher Kevin Krewell in an article for Forbes. There are some needed improvements in displays and electronics for “continuous, graphics-intensive VR action that stresses system on chip (SoC) in the handset.”
Mobile users either need to pick a high frame rate to render realistic VR or a refresh rate below 60 Hz. The slower option can cause nausea and noticeable lag in movements, while the faster option will drain your battery and possibly cause your phone to overheat. It’s only been a year since Samsung Galaxy Note 7s were recalled due to a tendency to explode when overheated, which is certainly not something that would enhance a Monday morning meeting.
VR for work: Don’t give up on the dream just yet
WIRED’s Blanca Myers hasn’t given up the dream of a VR-powered workplace, specifically “digital personae” that are at least a little better than our real-life selves. “Restless leg syndrome or resting crab face? Filter them out with algorithms! While you’re at it, let’s get you into a nicer shirt.” Being able to edit your avatar for work meetings does sound pretty good.
One day, your commute to work could be as complicated as crossing your home to put on your VR headset and blazing through a full day of meetings, collaborative projects, and multi-app tasks—no pants or lengthy commutes required.
While virtual reality technology isn’t dead and the jury’s out on whether it’s just over-hyped, it definitely has some maturing to do before it significantly disrupts your workplace. VR is almost certainly coming to the office—it just needs to first cross a few barriers, like mobile compatibility, apps that support productivity, and collaboration that doesn’t make you nauseous.