I had an interesting conversation with a friend this past weekend that got me thinking about the promise of augmented reality vs. virtual reality. My friend, who's opinion of technology I respect a great deal and who has enough VR and AR experience to have an informed opinion, said that he could see how augmented reality will be big, but he still didn't understand virtual reality. This makes a lot of sense to me, and I still remain as bullish as ever on virtual reality. VR has the potential to change culture which, for me, is more exciting than augmenting it. Because of this potential, however, it's much harder to envision what the future of virtual reality looks like compared to augmented reality's.
When you think of the potential of AR, it's easy to think of how a heads up display would augment driving, navigating, classroom learning, cooking, meetings, shopping, etc. These are activities we do every day and to add an effortless layer of technology that improves that experience is a no brainer. But most of the uses I can think of for VR don't improve existing activities, they try to define a new way of doing things. Some of my favorite VR learning apps don't take you to a classroom, but transport you across the solar system or scale you down to the size of an atom. As support for a virtual desktop improves and eventually starts taking advantage of the depth dimension, it has the potential to redefine what an office looks like. If you follow our work at Oculus Story Studio, you can see how VR has required us to rethink how we tell stories and how the audience experiences them.
Immersion, the defining feature of VR, is a problem and a benefit: it's a problem because every VR experience needs to reward all of the user's attention; it's a benefit because if we succeed, all of that experience is something you've never had before. The leap your imagination needs to take to add technology to what you've already experience is a smaller one. Imagining a completely new experience that will redefine how you go about your day requires a leap of faith, and will never be fully convincing as an idea. You have to eventually see it for yourself.
I know many people who have found a compelling experience in VR-- whether it was from playing a game, seeing a story, watching a sporting event in a virtual space, or being in a virtual dance party. Of all the potential experiences you can have in VR right now, I totally get that a lot of people haven't found something that clicks for them. Talk of a single killer app that will convert everyone is the wrong approach. There are so many different uses of VR that I think everyone will come to it for their own reasons. I accept that my friend hasn't found that app that convinces him of a new way of doing things. I have faith that given time, the innovativeness of the VR community, and the inevitable improvement of the technology, enough "killer apps" will be created to cover a large range of interests, including my friend's.