Virtual Reality (VR) has long been expected but, for many years, underdeveloped. Now, times have changed. Many tech powerhouses are heavily invested in reaping the potential the technology has to offer. VR technology is increasingly accessible and available for consumers, with manufacturers having already released household sets and continuing to do so. While all applications of VR are still not entirely clear, Silicon Valley’s elite, as well as the giants in the gaming industry, are now engaged in the race for market share and supremacy as they invest heavily in both software and hardware.
Manufacturers and developers are shaping Virtual Reality for the coming years, from developing highly accessible and affordable sets that utilize smartphone technology to systems that cost thousands of dollars. Judging from this year’s technology shows and events, certainly all eyes are on this emerging technology, yet there is no certainty as to what iteration will be most adopted by consumers. Currently there is strong focus on consumer gaming and entertainment, but VR applications are moving beyond household entertainment into many business sectors.
Interest, investments and funding are not scarce for companies eager to spearhead the VR industry. Funding was reaching $2.8 billion in 2016 and totaling $8.8 billion since 20121. Some predict the virtual reality hardware and software market will reach the $70 billion mark by 20202.
The business applications of VR are as varied as the industries the technology could impact; Virtual Reality as a means of business communication both internally and externally has long been envisioned and predicted. The applications can range from “face-to-face” meetings to mass participation through “Virtual Conventions.” Enterprise adoption of VR would also mean the introduction of a massive opportunity for Communication providers.
Virtual Reality, in one iteration or another, has long been used by the aerospace and defense industry, be it for product design or for simulations/training. The technology will no doubt further evolve in this industry as well as translate to industrial manufacturers, where equipment is expensive and training is costly. Beyond the benefits to manufacturers using the technology for product design, utilizing Virtual Reality for training can have immediate effects and be extremely cost-effective.
The potential opportunities Virtual Reality offers to the media and entertainment industry is notable; albeit in an experimental capacity. The technology has the potential to define not only the experience of sporting events and music concerts, but also span to the film industry and television broadcasts, by providing an immersive experience for the user that might also find favor with advertisers, especially with the potential of eye tracking technology being incorporated.
Automotive companies are experimenting with creating virtual “test drives” that demonstrate the experience of driving one of their cars through an immersive experience. Similarly, retailers are finding VR helpful to enable shoppers to experience products they typically require viewing in person for “fit and feel” from the comfort of their home.
In seemingly every industry, enterprises can find benefits from VR, from enhancing communication to more effective training and product development, to improving the customer experience. For example, marketing departments might benefit from the tracking data and analytics the technology could provide. Marketers and advertisers can utilize Virtual Reality for purposes of brand loyalty and awareness by building immersive experiences directed at consumers. Furthermore, VR applications to help in big data visualization across the enterprise are already being developed.
While still in its infancy, many factors are propelling VR into greater business application.
While using similar advances in technology and easily adaptable hardware, Augmented Reality (a form of blending Virtual Reality with the real world, rather than an immersive experience) has experienced a recent surge in gaming and will certainly advance alongside Virtual Reality, forming a combined industry that is predicted to be worth $120 billion 20203.
While tech giants are racing to bring Virtual Reality to the consumer’s home, prices are currently high and adoption is relatively encapsulated within a niche of gaming enthusiasts and early adopters. All indicators point to the eventual fall in prices as the technology moves away from early iterations and first generation products towards maturity. This lower price point can spur expansion in both consumer and business interest.
Mobile device manufacturers are also looking to incorporate Virtual Reality technology through mobile handsets, as an alternate to stand-alone devices. This advancement would certainly help the proliferation of the technology.
As with the onset of any new technology, many variables are still unknown. What experts agree on, however, is that the technology is not going to be the flop experienced in VR in the early ’90s, when computational power was nowhere near the current state. Today’s advancements in every complementary technology make for a much higher likelihood of success. With many Silicon Valley startups building around VR technology both for consumer/entertainment and business applications, VR is likely to result in new opportunity for industry newcomers and established mainstays.
Technology moves rather rapidly, and there is a very strong case for the business application of Virtual Reality. Industries such as communications, retail, Enterprise Service Providers, engineering, healthcare, education, media and entertainment should look to leverage this new technology to stay ahead of the game.