Last year the world was introduced to augmented reality. The introduction didn’t come from somewhere expected – like a Microsoft Hololens event. Instead, it came from a game that has been played on consoles of one form or another for well over two decades. Yes – Pokemon Go was augmented reality’s moment. It was the moment when the world woke up and realized that overlaying reality with adorable little creatures was a possibility.
In the height of the Pokemon Go craze last summer, the addictive game was all over the news. Not only were tech publications talking about how it heralded the beginning of an era, but mainstream news channels were concerning themselves with the possible “social and safety ramifications” of the game. It seemed as if everybody had an opinion.
The only important thing about Pokemon Go for the future of AR was that the game was extremely popular among children, the next generation of consumers. Augmented reality wasn’t limited to some design workshop or media lab – it was in school playgrounds and kid’s pockets. Suffice to say that augmented reality is here to stay.
Virtual reality, a similar type of technology that allows people to move around in virtual worlds, has not yet had its Pokemon Go moment. Nothing so far has had the same mass appeal. It’s not for want of trying. The industry has been pushing all sorts of games and entertainment that make use of VR – like space simulator games – but none of it has struck a chord with the masses. Part of the problem seems to be the price of hardware. Although there are cheap options, like the console VR headsets, to get a good experience, you need either the HTC Vive or the Oculus Rift, both of which are more than $400 (£300). The there’s the fact that you need seriously powerful graphics hardware to run them. Sub-$1,000 PCs just don’t cut it.
Perhaps a way into the market will be through digital media and photography, not gaming. Already companies are lining up to build the best 360 camera possible in the hope that consumers will take to the platform. Perhaps VR will have its moment in some other domain, like watching live sports or concerns. Or maybe people will use it to reexperience their holiday adventures in 3D. Who knows? The point is that VR needs a Pokemon Go moment if it’s ever going to find its way into the mainstream.
Virtual reality will take ‘maybe a decade’ to become mainstream
It’s unlikely that VR will go the same way as 3D computer monitors, although it’s not impossible. Back in 2012, monitor manufacturers started making 3D monitors in the hope that it would signal the beginning of the 3D gaming era. But a host of technical difficulties, as well as the fact that you had to wear glasses, meant that the technology never really went anywhere, and companies stopped investing in it. Given the potential for VR, it would be sad if the same thing happened again. But unless more compelling VR content is created, it certainly could.