In 2012 Oculus VR began the unthinkable task of resurrecting virtual reality(VR), with the release of their Oculus Rift dev kit.This year Sony and Valve will release consumer headsets for their gaming platforms, expanding this generation of VR to the gaming community. Microsoft and Oculus backer Facebook have loftier goals though. They hope to position VR as a new mainstream platform. Attracting the mainstream to VR will not be easy. Surprisingly it’s the show-bag novelty Google Cardboard that might help them get there.
Past evolutions of consumer VR have ultimately been let down by the technology. The smartphone boom has all but solved these problems. All the components required for modern VR - high density screens, accelerometers and high speed on a wearable scale are now ready to power a VR revolution. Gamers will decide if this generation of VR tech is mature enough for consumers. VR and games is a pretty natural fit, but the jury is out on whether VR can become a mainstream platform.
The next stage will be applying the technology to applications beyond gaming. When Facebook acquired Oculus VR, the move was justified by CEO Mark Zuckerberg - “Strategically we want to start building the next major computing platform that will come after mobile”.
Mass adoption has one major barrier - VR has an image problem. Past generations of tech have damaged the idea of VR. Take a random sample of the public and ask them to try the Oculus Rift and you’ll see the issue. There is a sense of hesitancy, even embarrassment. No one was too embarrassed to try an iPhone before the rise of mobile as a platform, but there is real resistance to even trying VR, let alone buying it.
Enter Google Cardboard.
Google Cardboard is essentially a foldable pizza box that turns your smartphone into a VR headset. If you can follow the fun, puzzle like instructions, you’re in business. It looks more like an old View Master than a headset. It’s cute, it’s silly, it’s non-threatening and it’s the ideal gateway for the mainstream public to explore the possibilities of VR. It’s low tech design has no link to the past generations of VR and it adds functionality to the smartphone people already love.
If there’s a killer app to launch VR as a platform and bring it into the mainstream, this is where it will be.
Original version written for b2cloud.com.au