So, virtual reality is now the future? Give me a break…
With the summer behind us, the first weekend of September brings something essential to the technology world: the Internationale Funkausstellung or, for short, IFA Berlin, one of the most important technology shows in the world. IFA is a predominant event for us, Europeans, for two reasons: firstly, it covers the whole spectrum of the technology market, from TVs and smartphones to fridges and cars and secondly, it addresses the European market directly with news and announcements aimed towards its consumers. The most interesting thing that’s happening in shows like IFA Berlin or Mobile World Congress in Barcelona is the identification of the key trends that will spread and develop over the following months.
One of these trends that emerged during past week’s IFA Berlin was virtual reality, or VR. For decades, the gaming industry has been pursuing the VR dream, for decades it has been failing constantly. SEGA announced the SEGA VR, a virtual reality headset with LCD screens and stereo headphones in 1991 only to abandon the whole project three years later. In 1995, Nintendo launched the ill-fated Virtual Boy, the so-called first “portable” videogame console capable of displaying true 3D graphics. However, Virtual Boy turned out to be a pricey and non user-friendly system with limited capabilities and a narrow selection of titles and Nintendo discontinued it just a year later.
While both SEGA and Nintendo never experimented with VR again, in 2012 a US-based company named Oculus VR demonstrated its plans for a head-mounted VR display. In that year’s E3 Convention in Los Angeles, Oculus VR introduced Rift, the product in question. It even launched a tremendously successful Kickstarter campaign securing a sum of $2.44 million, even if in the beginning the goal was a mere $250,000. Two years later, Oculus VR was bought by Facebook for $2 billion. Earlier this year, Sony announced Project Morpheus, its upcoming virtual reality headset which will be compatible with the PS4 and the PS Vita and is expected to be released the forthcoming year. The past week in IFA, one more company booked its tickets for the VR train: Samsung, with its VR headset, is going to turn the new Galaxy Note 4 into a 360-degree virtual reality experience.
I’m not sure whether Sony and Samsung have a solid grasp of the whole VR concept. Oculus is a company that was formed with the VR business in mind, a firm that was focused on a single business or even better on a single product. Yes, the Oculus Rift did generate a lot of buzz, something rather predictable since there wasn’t anything like that in the market. On the other hand, it looks to me that Sony and Samsung decided to enter this market just because they found out that people are interested in it. Just that and nothing more. Two years after it appeared in the industry, Oculus has not made any significant progress; the Rift hasn’t launched commercially yet and there’s still plenty of room for improvement. The question is whether Oculus, a company solely focused on VR, makes such a slow progress, how on earth will Sony and Samsung catch up and offer the consumers a device and a platform they’ll truly appreciate. Don’t ask me, I’m totally clueless.
What I do know however, is that VR can’t take another fail. It’s a technology that has been failing for three decades. If it’s really possible for it to become mainstream, now is the time: it’s more advanced technologically, more impressive and sexier than ever. It’s basically now or never.