Casual mobile virtual reality (VR) will eat the world when Google announces its Daydream VR platform with its six hardware partners in October. Within two years, millions of consumers will become accustomed to using augmented reality (AR) and VR, casually, like they use GPS and voice to text now because there will be a VR app for that—whatever that is. Extending VR into the mobile app ecosystem will produce VR use cases that haven’t dawned on the average consumer.
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Mobile VR will emerge and absorb hours of people’s time like casual games have at little or no additional cost to them. Casual games are free or cost just a few dollars, with advertising and in-app purchases driving revenue. Console VR systems from Oculus, HTC and soon Sony will be different. The even more realistic experience produced by more powerful CPUs, GPUs and higher-performance displays will convince enthusiasts seeking the ultimate VR experience to spend hundreds of dollars, and even a thousand dollars, for hardware and $50 to $100 per game—like game consoles have.
The revenue models of mobile VR and console VR will track the mobile game and console game market, which according to market researcher New Zoo will reach $36.9 billion and $29 billion, respectively, this year. These are very big and very different businesses.
Gaming and entertainment have taken the lead
The general public’s opinion of VR has been skewed by early gaming and entertainment demos. This is not a criticism, but a statement of fact. All the VR/AR makers have poured millions of dollars and millions of man-hours into reaching consumers to demonstrate Google Cardboard, Samsung Gear VR, Microsoft Hololens, the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive.
The amazement the first-time a user has the feeling presence in a VR experience confirms that this was the strategy. My first experience of VR presence was the 3D movie trailer of Wild inside a Samsung Gear VR. It made me believe I was there. It was so real that I felt uncomfortable not greeting and acknowledging the very real Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern nearby.
The term presence is self-explanatory; it is the feeling of being in this alternative three-dimensional space, even though the mind and all senses but sound and sight contradict this feeling.
Mine was just one experience, but millions of people have now had this flash realization during demonstrations. It’s powerful enough that Samsung has shipped over 2 million Gear VRs, and at last count Google and its partners have shipped over 15 million.
The experience of being present in virtual reality positively impressed the public, but the idea of long periods of isolation and wearing a scuba-mask-like headset put them off to the idea of VR and AR. Sure, the 28-year-old nicknamed Warlock who lives in his mom’s basement is going to shift his endless hours with his game console, flat screen and game controllers to a head mounted display (HMD). But the average person isn't anxious to cut themselves off during long periods of immersive isolation.
VR costs now and in the future
Mobile is expensive right now because the low latency of less than 20ms needed to track the scene displayed inside the HMD with a realistic high 60Hz refresh rate requires expensive hardware. A Samsung Galaxy S7 will set a consumer back $750, plus $100 for the HDM.
Fast forward two years from now, and a much less expensive general-purpose smartphone that costs $400 to $500 will be capable of producing a great VR experience with an HDM that costs less than $30--removing financial obstacles to using a VR app.
Google Cardboard was introduced in much the same way, at a price of $10 to $20 for the cardboard HDM and apps that ran on almost every phone. It produced a less-than-great VR experience due to inconsistent and slow phones, but nevertheless it inexpensively introduced consumers to VR and the feeling of presence.
Mobile VR and AR will find its way onto many peoples’ smartphones. An AR app exists today to help visualize redecorating a living room. A chemistry student might want to drop his or her smartphone into an HDM to investigate how electrons behave between two molecules, bonding into a new molecule. The consumer set on fixing a small engine might do the same to see how to complete the repair instead of watching a YouTube video.
Games and entertainment will be a big, too. Consumers will willingly isolate themselves to watch the entire 2019 Jason Bourne movie to be present in the action, or they might take a few minutes to watch the 3D highlights of their favorite football team’s last game.
When the first Star Wars movie was released, the topic of conversation was the stunning special effects. In the last release of a Star Wars episode, no one talked about the special effects, just the movie because the amazing work by Lucas Films’ engineers and artists was taken for granted. Very soon, mobile AR and VR will also be taken for granted at work, in schools and at home.