While the immersive industries have suffered from multiple false alarms that “this year is the year”, 2018 is undoubtedly shaping up to be a pivotal year for mass consumer adoption. Recent advancements across both hardware and software laid the groundwork for VR and AR, making them more accessible. Here are some of the highlights from 2017:
- Headset price reductions enabled wider VR accessibility, generating more interest
- Inside-out tracking headsets released to the public for the first time
- Over 2 million PSVR units were sold since its launch in 2016
- Apple launched their first AR platform, ARKit
- Google renamed their “Project Tango” AR efforts to “ARCore” in response to Apple’s ARKit, which set them back as the previous market leader
- Mira Headset launched the Google Cardboard of AR, Meta 2 launched a dev kit, and Magic Leap emerged from stealth mode
- Facebook and Snapchat developed tools to ease AR creation
As we progress through the hype curve and trough of disillusionment, expectations of mainstream status are soon going to match reality.
1. AR/VR headsets will be completely revamped by Fall
Inside-out tracking, high resolution screens, and improved graphics will make 3DOF (3-degrees of freedom) headsets a relic of the past. We’re moving into a market where all headsets (including mobile) will offer 6DOF (6-degrees of freedom) at an affordable price.
Oculus announced they’ll be releasing the Oculus Go headset, an all-in-one mobile VR headset early this year. Though this news is exciting, many are holding out for the consumer version of Santa Cruz, the predecessor to the Rift, which will be announced at Oculus Connect 5 later this year.
Santa Cruz will use inside-out tracking, which doesn’t require external devices like cameras or lighthouses used in the “big three” systems: Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PSVR. Instead, cameras are placed on the headset and look outward to track and determine their position. The increased mobility in a confined space will make experiences feel even more real.
Microsoft already uses that technology in their VR headsets, otherwise known as Mixed Reality headsets. Their push to make VR more accessible included chopping the price of headsets significantly–to as low as $400. By lowering the PC minimum spec for these headsets, people can immerse into VR experiences on their current PCs. We expect even more advanced technology (including increased pixel density) to be available at the same price later this year.
At CES this past month, HTC announced the Vive Pro, an evolution of their current Vive headset that touts a 78% increase in pixel density, with a 2,880 × 1,600 resolution (compared to the current 2,160 × 1,200). Google also debuted their new 6DOF (6-degrees-of-freedom headset), the Lenovo Mirage, which is slated to release in Q2 2018 and is said will be priced under $400.
As for AR headsets, Magic Leap emerged from stealth mode to tease us with a bare bones preview of their upcoming Creator edition headset. No details were provided, other than the announcement that a creator portal would be coming soon to allow developers to build for the upcoming platform. While Magic Leap’s final product this year is sure to be bulky, we believe technical achievements will set the stage for leaner headsets in the future.
2. Voice is the new standard UI
As we’re seeing the rise of tools like Siri, Google Home, and Alexa, people are interacting with technology in a more natural way. Rather than manually entering searches and requests, voice recognition has made it easy for the everyday consumer to communicate with their devices the way they would with a friend. It’s not uncommon to verbally ask your cell phone what the weather is today, and be greeted with an accurate response.
Similarly, as we develop UIs for AR/VR, it’s become very evident that 2D menus, keyboards, and buttons in VR/AR do not work. Using these 2D elements in 3D environment feels unnatural, and greatly discounts the authenticity of an immersive experience. Fortunately, there have been drastic advancements with voice-to-text technology; an explosion of applications now have the ability to support multiple languages and differentiate between users. Voice to prompt action, paired with visuals, will make for the most powerful immersive experience to come.
3. Social AR/VR is happening…
Social VR companies including Against Gravity (makers of Rec Room), Bigscreen, Pluto VR, TheWaveVR, and VRChat had some of the largest funding rounds in 2017. As immersive social environments continue to resonate with early adopters, more consumers will be looking for strong communities to build within VR.
Already this year, VRChat jumped into the mainstream with over 1.2M installs in a growing community that loves to share the worlds within worlds that you can discover. VRChat offers a desktop version of their application, which allows people who aren’t in VR to explore VRChat. User growth no longer relies on the trajectory of the industry. We’ll start to see more immersive companies follow suit as we wait for headsets to proliferate the market.
…which is bringing real-world problems into virtual communities
Immersive platforms have yet to configure solid tools to prohibit sexual harassment in VR. Cy Wise of Owlchemy Labs recounts her experience in a Twitter thread, sharing “The dominant problem was the complete lack of agency. They accosted my body, and I had no comparable physical recourse available to me. I found myself grasping for any means to protect myself. Tools were in place but they were rudimentary and ineffective.”
As the #MeToo and #TimesUp movement is an ever increasing hot topic in the “real” world, we must take our learnings and bring them into VR as well. It’s unclear what methods will be put in place to prevent incidents of harassment, but we have no doubts that users will speak loud until a solution is reached.
4. AR Apps Galore
The release of ARKit made it easy for developers to create augmented reality experiences for consumers to discover on mobile. With rumors swirling that Apple is building their own AR headset, it’s obvious that ARKit is just a stepping stone of what’s to come.
Since iOS 11’s launch in September, there have been over 3 million downloads of apps with ARKit. The most popular category is games, which includes AR Dragon, The Machines, and Zombie Gunship Revenant. ARKit utilities follow in close second, with 19% of downloaders relying on tools like TapMeasure, Ikea Place, and GIPHY World.
John Carmack, CTO of Oculus, put the current state of the industry well; “It actually feels like all of the pieces, all of the ingredients that we need, are already really here, they’re just not stirred, cooked, and seasoned.” 2018 is the year that will reveal how AR and VR stew together, proving it’s more than just a gimmick of ideas. It won’t be much longer until we see a true consumer breakout success that uses the technology.
5. An onslaught of creative resources will lower barriers to entry
In 2017, many large companies, including Adobe, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Snapchat, released tools that helped creators develop in a faster, more scalable way. In 2018, we’ll see an increased focus around easing the barrier to entry for 3D asset/environment, 360º video/image creation, and integrated voice experiences.
Scott Belsky, VP of Design at Adobe, notes “The natural world is on the cusp of having an interactive interface, and the implications of AR will exceed our wildest expectations. But AR still lacks industrial-grade platform-agnostic creative tools. Rather than train a new generation of designers on new tools, today’s widespread creative tools, like Photoshop or After Effects, must meet Creatives where they already are and empower them to create in AR.”
The easier the tools become, the more people that will jump into the immersive industries. We’re on the brink of a new generation of headsets, and a newer generation of consumers with higher standards for immersive experiences. Enabling creation is key to keeping up with the demand. And of course, these experiences will need to be discoverable, hence the growing urgency for SVRF, the first search engine for immersive content.
Momentum from hardware manufacturers and key software infrastructure will dominate in the coming months, effectively arming creators and readying consumers for their immersive futures. Then, it’s off to the races with how to market, launch, and iterate upon learnings from the early majority, heading into what could be the most revolutionary holiday season the immersive industries have ever seen. 2018 is going to be a wild ride for the immersive industries. Buckle up 🚀