Facebook bets on mobile VR: I'm not taking the bait

Opinion: Facebook is betting on mobile VR, but it still gives me no reason to buy into the circus.

Intro: The Business Reality of VR and AR

The Business Reality of VR and AR

Facebook is launching a new virtual reality (VR) headset which needs no separate PC to operate -- but VR is lacking crucial components to make it a mainstream success.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told attendees of the firm's annual virtual reality developers conference in San Jose, Calif., on Wednesday that the new headset, "Oculus Go," will cost $199 and ship in 2018.


The new product is intended to be more practical and accessible than Facebook's current flagship VR device, Oculus Rift, which requires a paired computer system to work -- limiting its use to the home and to those who can afford a PC with the specifications needed to run virtual reality applications.

Oculus Go is intended for those that do not have a Samsung smartphone. You can already buy the Gear VR which is a similar, portable device, but you need a high-end Samsung device to operate the headset.

Google Daydream is another alternative which works with a wider variety of smartphones, and the price of HTC's Vive has recently been slashed.

Facebook has also decided to slash the price of Rift to $399 from $499 and plans to boost the capabilities of Facebook Spaces, a platform for connecting people in a virtual space.

Oculus says the all-in-one device "represents a huge leap forward in comfort, visual clarity, and ease-of-use," but will consumers take the bait?

Google Glass and its augmented reality focus may have been a complete flop outside of the enterprise, but vendors all over the world are looking at virtual reality applications as the future.

Read also: Apple previews ARKit apps, Google debuts ARCore: It's all about business, developers | AR to be key to business, as VR lands with consumers, says IDC | Developers get a broader VR market with Oculus Go | Upskill updates AR platform for easier enterprise deployment | Are head-mounted displays really going to sell in 2021? | HTC cuts price of Vive virtual reality system by $200, could spur more enterprise pilots

Companies including Qualcomm are developing VR-ready chips, Dubai is planning to utilize virtual reality by creating aquariums to replace traditional security booths, and VR apps are being developed for anything from gaming to healthcare scenarios, where we may one day see our surgeons, doctors, and nurses being trained through VR rather than more traditional methods as they learn about the human body.

In the UK, some hospices caring for end-of-life patients with terminal illnesses are experimenting with VR headsets to transport their patients back to familiar areas and give them relief from the walls of healthcare units, and in a recent interview, Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer said the technology may also one day be applied to air travel, "because it's way better than the back-of-the-seat monitor or my phone."

TechRepublic: Video: Dell sees a bright future in mixed reality | HP announces world's first wearable VR PC backpack for business | CNET: Your virtual reality guide

There are applications in many industries that VR could improve, or transform altogether. Remote business meetings that don't cut out every 10 seconds, are more reliable and muffle external noise, professional training, learning how to drive without placing others at risk -- the possibilities for business are endless.

However, adoption is slow in the consumer realm -- despite Facebook's hopes to push up to one billion people into adopting virtual reality -- and some elements of a successful transition into the mainstream are lacking.

"This is a great opportunity -- not only for businesses but for the long-term viability of VR," Oculus said. "To become an indispensable part of our daily lives, VR must continue to impact the ways we collaborate, discover, and learn, at scale."

Well, it doesn't. Collaboration tools are most often found online or on business networks, there are few examples -- if any -- of VR being used on mass scales for learning, and the only real "discovery" in play is discovering how cool some VR apps are.

Consumers may still be interested in budget-friendly VR devices. However, VR is little more than a -- usually -- an expensive or complicated gimmick, a fun tool for gaming at home or an experimental device at present.

Something crucial is still lacking in the VR industry -- necessity.

There's no requirement in society for a portable VR device, and so matter the price or specifications, until there is a true need for either consumers or business to embrace VR, it likely won't go too much further.

Our smartphones have become such a necessity. Arguably more important than owning your own transport, smartphones have meant that many in business are always accessible and on-call, communication lines and access to Internet services are usually always available, and the idea of not having a mobile phone in the West is seen as peculiar unless you are a minor.

Smartphones are now verging on necessary, whether for work or play, but VR lacks compelling reasons to adopt it outside of a gaming room at home or as a memorable Christmas present.

There is also the divide between reality and virtual reality. If you are using a headset somewhere you feel safe, such as at home or in a car, perhaps, VR can make you vulnerable.

In the same way that those glued to their smartphones cause traffic accidents while driving or when crossing a road, VR in the real world, without restraint, can be risky (not to mention how someone walking down the road wearing a VR headset could be viewed by others, as Google Glassholes showed us several years ago).

Virtual reality is new, exciting, and the limited content which is currently available is still quite amazing to experience. But the straight divide between reality and VR may trample the burning need for consumers at large to adopt such headsets.

Augmented or mixed reality, where you are still aware of your surroundings and able to react to risks, is a more comfortable proposition.

Advertizing at large is not based on someone wanting a device, but rather experiencing the fear of not possessing something. Unless you give me a good reason to fear not owning a VR headset -- whether it be impacting my work, social life, or another crucial element linked to my lifestyle -- I don't buy it, and won't be in the near future.

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