I was fifteen years old when the original TRON movie was released.  It was around the same time a friend introduced me to his Commodore 64 computer and taught me to program numerical sequences onto a cassette tape and execute them.  Watching those numbers scroll up and down my old tv screen was infinitely different than the world TRON offered, but both were mind-blowingly exciting to a couple of teenage nerds.

2016 is coming to a close and we’ve “officially” entered the world of virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality.  Adventuring in virtual reality using my HTC Vive is as close as I’ve ever been to living in the world of TRON.  And I’m as excited now as I was in 1982.

Want to know why?  Here are 5 Reasons:

1.  Immersion – I have been using VR for almost a year (I own an HTC Vive,  Samsung Gear VR, and multiple Cardboard headsets), and it hasn’t stopped being amazing.  The immersive quality of Virtual Reality environments consistently places you “somewhere else”.  Whether I’m riding a meteor in space, scaling Mt Everest, or defending myself against zombies in a post-apocalyptic world, I feel like I’m there (tip: place an electric fan nearby and turn it on high. Your sense of touch will be heightened).  The immersion is breathtaking, powerful and will always be the primary strength of the technology.  It is impossible not to be thoroughly engaged while experiencing VR.

2.  Distraction-free environment – When you’re in immersive VR, there is nothing else but you and what you’re experiencing in the headset and headphones.  No email notifications, pop-up banners, or click bait triggers leading you astray.  You are there for one purpose and one purpose only:  to experience the virtual environment.

3.  Failure is an option – John Dewey said it best: “Failure is instructive. The person who really thinks, learns as much from his failures as from his successes.”  In simulated environments, interactivity allows you endless exploration.  Trying to defuse a bomb?  Failure is an option.  Mixing potions to summon a dragon — but end up with a toad?  Go ahead, try again.

I love learning from mistakes, and VR offers me the freedom to let things go wrong.

4. Sites like Sketchfab – With a community of over half a million creators contributing over a million models, Sketchfab is the world’s largest platform to publish, share and discover VR and 3D content online.  And there’s no doubt they’re just getting started.  If you haven’t seen Sketchfab, stop what you’re doing and go there now.  It’s incredible on mobile and desktop, but better yet, use that google cardboard you have laying around.

5. Undiscovered Potential – There’s no doubt VR is just coming into its own.  And the potential for learning is tremendous.  The last great technology that made expertise instantly accessible was the freaking internet. It’s a whole new world, and we’re just starting to scratch the surface.

BUT … there’s alot of hype.  Is VR going to transform our world?  Yes.  But it’s not happening overnight.  In fact, we’re probably five to ten years away from it being as impactful as something like the smartphone.  Here are five reasons why:

1. Cost – I’m blown away by the experience but so was my wallet.  I bought a $1200 desktop computer, added a $400 video card, then bought the HTC Vive for $800.  It was worth the investment, but not easy on the pocketbook.  Gear VR and Cardboard experiences are much cheaper, but it’s a little like going from a flip phone to a smartphone.  Once I started using the Vive, it’s hard to go back.  Unless there are some major advances in hardware and software, VR isn’t quite ready for the masses.

2. Technology Adoption – The only way to get a VR experience is by using a high end smartphone and headset, or by using a newer Windows computer with a high end video card.  VR is currently not a viable option for most consumers (possibly changing with the Sony Playstation 4).  Choices are limited but that will change in the next twelve to eighteen months.  But is the demand for VR in the general marketplace enough to make a major impact?  I tend to agree with the 2016 Virtual Reality Industry Report that says “the VR industry is still six to eight years away from hypergrowth or a tipping point in adoption of the medium.”

3. The focus is on entertainment – By far, VR’s popularity is surging in the entertainment world.  Games and movies, folks, that’s where it’s at.  And that’s OK!  Because that’s where the technology will be pushed to places it hasn’t been.  It’s why VR is hot in Los Angeles and New York. Silicon Valley?  Not so much.  What I’m waiting for is how it can impact our learning and productivity.  A casual search on google will show you there’s not much happening…yet.

4. Complexity – I have run dozens of people through VR Training on the HTC Vive (BTW, Kudos to HTC for providing one of the top VR experiences available — in their training!)  Learning how to use the Vive is a huge part of enjoying the experience.  And it takes time.  Same with Cardboard and the Gear VR.  It’s a whole new world and it will take time for people to get used to it.  It’s not just the devices you need to get used to, it’s the interface and experience.

5. Silo – I like computers.  I like video games.  I don’t like watching people working on their computers.  I don’t like watching people playing video games.  And this is even more emphasized when someone’s in a VR experience.  They’re completely isolated from everyone around them so it makes the experience very singular. VR is definitely something you do by yourself and it’s going to be a while before it transforms into something you do with teams.

Are you excited about VR?  Or are you waiting for 2022?  Let us know in the comments!

* BONUS: Check out this 360 video of Viktor Venson speaking at TLDC16 in his session “The Future of Work and Training in Immersive Technologies”

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