Sunday, June 18, 2017

Virtual Reality

Virtual Reality or VR is one of the hottest technology fields in discussion currently. Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality (VR/AR) is still a growing field with many issues ranging from expensive hardware, little standards or regulations, and unexplored, undiscovered potential for beneficial applications. So far, video game simulations have been the main selling point of VR headsets for consumers.

The immersive digital experience of augmented reality can go beyond video gaming however, into film and media, urban planning, healthcare, and defense applications. The New York Times released a mobile app that allows users to take part in news and storytelling by placing them in contested areas, or in unique landmarks and locations around the world [3].

Facebook is perhaps leading the virtual environment market with its $3 billion acquisition of Occulus VR in 2014 and their pioneer product, the Occulus Rift headset. Facebook does have an interesting strategy of cornering the VR market by aiming to own the software behind VR and not just the headsets. Facebook intends to be the curator and repository destination for gaming, movies, and various applications in the VR space [4].  In doing so, Facebook is choosing “to be bold” as John Chambers CEO of Cisco notes, by taking a gamble in a relatively new field and viewing VR as an opportunity rather than a threat [5]. This in turn encouraging competitors like Samsung and Google to jump in VR technology and invest.

At this point, the best way to market VR technology is customer interaction. But, in an interesting article by the BBC, consumers seem ambivalent about trying out the head-mounted devices. The demo stations in retail electronic stores do not encourage users due to the physical and hygienic aspect of wearing the headset. Also, a user would be shelling out at least $600 just for the headset, which then requires high-end computing power to accompany it [6].  

I think the wise approach to augmented reality should be “agnostic marketing” as Christensen calls it in his paper [1]. Virtual reality is certainly garnering attention from consumers and technology companies alike, yet its potential is still unknown. For disruptive technologies, Christensen recommends that companies “plan by learning” [1] from its consumer base and product engagement. In the case of VR, the reaction from consumers is mixed, given the biological side effects ranging from eyestrain, headaches, and sickness especially with extended use [2]. Facebook benefits more by gathering feedback of VR users and how they interact with the headsets. Perhaps Facebook should have waited a little longer before investing big in that technology, as VR matures. We are yet to see tangible gains from those bulky wearable headsets.

[1] Christensen, Clayton M. “Discovering New and Emerging Markets.” Harvard Business School Press.  September, 1997.
[2] Lewis, Tanya. “Samsung Gear VR: Virtual Reality Tech May Have Nasty Side Effects.” Live Science. February 3, 2015. Accessed June 18, 2017.  
[3] “NYT VR Virtual Reality.” The New York Times. Accessed June 18, 2017.
[4] Wagner, Kurt. “Two Years Later: Facebook's Oculus Acquisition Has Changed Virtual Reality Forever.” recode. March 24, 2016. Accessed June 18, 2017.
[5] Chambers, John. “Cisco’s CEO on Staying Ahead of Technology Shifts.” Harvard Business Review. May, 2015.

[6] Lee, David. “Has Facebook slipped up with VR?” BBC. February 11, 2017. Accessed June 18, 2017.

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