The reality of virtual reality


Last week I was purging our house of junk and clutter when I stumbled upon the Samsung Gear virtual reality headset that came free with my Samsung Galaxy S7 phone more than two years ago.

While I used the Gear only a tiny bit after receiving it, I thought my then 11-year-old son would really get into it. He didn’t, and when I asked him during my cleaning spree if he cared whether I got rid of the VR device, he said no.

That a young boy whose No.1 recreational activity is digital entertainment would be so indifferent to virtual reality hints at the problems VR has in penetrating the market. I wrote about this in February 2017, noting that Forrester Research estimated “critical-mass consumer adoption of high-end VR headsets is at least five years away.”

If data from Amazon is any indication, however, mass consumer adoption may be even further away. As Joshua Fruhlinger writes in Digital Trends, recent “sale ranks figures make it clear all the major VR headsets are in a tailspin, with no signs they’ll pull out of it.”

The problem is clear: Only a small percentage of consumers currently are interested in VR devices. Once they buy one, they’re not buying another for quite awhile (if ever), and they’ll use the headsets only sparingly.

“The first time you strap into a VR experience, you’re taken somewhere else. It’s really cool. It’s a lot like seeing a 3D movie for the first time,” Fruhlinger says. But then reality hits the VR user.

“After the initial shock wears off they offer too little content, are too confusing to use, and leave too many users dealing with motion sickness or other VR-related ailments,” he says. “Even hardcore VR enthusiasts rarely use a headset for more than an hour at a time.”

That’s a far cry from how frequently typical smartphone owners use their devices, which is almost constantly. In addition to a relatively small selection (relative to, say, mobile apps) of VR games and activities, some of these headsets suffer from build quality issues. Quite honestly, the Samsung Gear feels cheap, and I even heard a piece rattling around inside the device from the moment I took it out of the box and put it on. (Sorry, Samsung, truth time!)

Slow consumer adoption of VR matters to enterprises in a couple of ways. First, companies that are investing heavily now in VR marketing risk getting way ahead of the curve, delaying or even jeopardizing any meaningful return on investment.

Second, for enterprises that want to use VR to train employees or help them be productive on the job, lack of widespread consumer adoption will make it harder for them to introduce VR technology into the workplace simply because most employees will be unfamiliar with it.

Adoption issues aside, VR shows genuine promise as a tool for training, virtual meetings and collaboration, product design and engineering, and other workplace activities. But enterprises and consumers may have to be a little more patient as the technology and market slowly mature.

Does your enterprise use VR or have plans to use the technology?

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