From the moment Mark Zuckerberg handed over $2billion for Oculus Rift, the starting gun sounded for the latest trip around the VR hype cycle.

VR is not a new technology. The earliest incarnations have been traced all the way back to around 1860 in the form of panoramic paintings. By 1930, the first flight simulator using a version of the technology was sold to the US military to improve pilot skills. The first head mounted display was developed in 1960, first VR goggles hit the shelves in 1987, Lawnmower Man was released in 1992, and in 1995, Nintendo Virtual Boy.

VR has never been more accessible or its hype more pronounced

It’s a list that illustrates just how long we’ve been flirting with the emergence of virtual reality and waiting for it plant some roots, to move beyond vr hype and become part of our lives.

In its most recent incarnations, both in hardware and software, VR has undoubtedly taken a major leap beyond anything that’s gone before.

This momentum is due to several of the undisputed heavyweights of technology and innovation, Google, Facebook and Samsung throwing their weight behind it. From the newest, top-of-the-line headsets, which offer flawless visuals and precision motion capture, to $15 headsets such as Google cardboard which open the virtual field to anyone with a smartphone, VR has never been more accessible or its hype more pronounced.

So why does VR not yet touch the lives of every person, everyday? 

Doubts around the viability of VR to be part of the consumer mainstream are based on lagging headset sales vs. projections.

Data Analysts SuperData predicted more than 2.5M PlayStation VR sales, 600K Oculus Rift sales. But 2016 sales fell short:

There was so much VR hype 18 months ago from electronics manufacturers and retailers alike that anything less than ubiquitous headset ownership seems like a failure. But there are some extremely logical reasons for that which I’ll outline below.

But bear in mind, almost none of these barriers have an impact on business use cases, where consumers or clients may use VR occasionally, and for very specific jobs. Beyond the gaming chair, VR is finding an increasing number of practical uses in healthcare, retail, architecture, design, real estate and manufacturing.

The consumer barriers to VR are pretty easily overcome by businesses, and explain why the use cases may diverge.

Image: SuperData shows the variance in 2016 predictions vs. sales.

Cost

43% of people surveyed by Thrive Analytics cited expense as the key barrier. There’s no doubt that with A-list headsets such as the Oculus Rift, starting at $500 - $600 (which is about $100 less than the original cost - there was a pricedrop as of May 2017).

price is undoubtedly playing a role in maintaining VR’s position as a boutique technology

Before you buy and set up the high-powered computer necessary to run them - jumping into the top end of the VR market isn’t for the faint hearted and is expensive enough to challenge even the most indulgent of impulse buyers.

For an emerging technology that is looking to prove itself and hasn’t yet earned its place among consumer ‘must haves’, price is undoubtedly playing a role in maintaining VR’s position as a boutique technology.

But for businesses, with a single headset, they can reach dozens of potential clients in office, or hundreds at a trade show. The value is far easier to find in a one-to-many scenario over the cost to a single consumer.

Comfort & Practicality

VR’s propensity to cause nausea remains a key concern for new users. Those who may not want to wear a headset for hours of gameplay because they fear illness, will find they can pop in an out of a headset within a business application with no issues. There are other factors relating to user comfort beyond nausea such as negative feelings of isolation or looking foolish and, while acknowledging that these barriers remain an impediment to VR gaining its mass consumer foothold, at least in the short term, the technology is undoubtedly taking root in the enterprise. 

Moving beyond hype

The current state of consumer vs. business VR demonstrates the different places they are in the hype cycle. Early business adopters have moved past inflated expectations, have worked through some solutions that don’t fit and have moved on to the next phase, finding productive uses for VR storytelling and achieving ROI.

a growing number of businesses are finding that the technology is critical to creating immersive product and design experiences

In business applications, users are typically experiencing VR for short periods to accomplish specific goals. They aren’t wearing a rig for hours of recreation time.

Specific combinations of VR hardware and software can be tailored to clearly suit different business environments and address areas users are concerned about. Business users are more comfortable removing headstraps and ensuring navigation is as simple to use as possible ie. removing the need for additional controllers or buttons to push. These subtle changes help non-familiar users avoid feeling self-conscious, and avoid nausea.

So, while VR hype continues to do battle with the real experiences of consumers, a growing number of businesses are finding that the technology is critical to creating immersive product and design experiences.

They are successfully applying VR technology to their operations and leveraging its unique capacity to engage, to educate, to communicate and to enthrall.

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