In October, Google quietly dropped a bombshell. A virtual reality bombshell.
— Google VR (@googlevr) October 4, 2016
Google’s Daydream changes the game for virtual reality. At the moment, tech is built into headsets or computers. But within two years, people will be walking around with VR-ready devices in their pocket.
Google is busy releasing more comfy headsets that you can slot your mobile phone in. By the end of 2016 there will be over 50 apps and games available in the Play Store.
If you needed more proof that popular culture is on the cusp of adopting virtual reality as mainstream technology, then you should have gone to the Björk Digital exhibition at Somerset House.
You would have been able to listen, watch, experience and immerse yourself in four tracks from her latest album. Walk on an Icelandic beach surrounded by four Björks. Peer out from inside the Icelandic artist’s mouth. Or fly in inner space alongside her.
Reviews were mixed but it’s the Guardian review which perhaps pinpoints the rub of Björk’s vision and the reality of virtual reality technology: “You’re simultaneously experiencing a galactic-scale vision and a primitive video game.”
The tech behind virtual reality is developing so rapidly that there’s no saying what we’ll be able to do in a decade or so. But forward-sighted retailers and businesses have been exploring the possibilities of using virtual reality to sell products.
Volvo is working with Microsoft’s HoloLens technology to develop a virtual car that appears in front of a potential customer in a showroom and allows them instantaneously to add and change features on the hologram before they decide to buy it.
The Daily Mail reported last year that MemoryMirror™ might signal the end of changing rooms. The app allows users to ‘try on’ clothing to see exactly how it would look and swipe through various outfit sizes. Panasonic’s ‘flaws and all’ mirror helps people identify cosmetics to improve how they look.
The tourism industry seems certain to be affected by virtual reality. You’ll be able to check out hotels before booking your holiday, and watch the sea lapping against the sand without leaving the house.
People love immersive experiences.
And before people buy products and services, they want to know how they’ll fit into their life. Will that jumper actually look good on them? Do they really need the leather car seats? Is the walk-in shower in the hotel really all that?
But there’s just one problem. VR isn’t quite there yet.
OK, there have been some amazing attempts at making virtual reality feel like the real thing.
For example, Birdly is a full-motion virtual reality rig that you lie on and it feels like you’re flying. But it will be a while before you can experience all of the five senses.
So while we wait for tech to catch up, reviews and UGC are perhaps the best way to experience what it feels like to own a product before you actually do. You can ask someone if that jumper is itchy, or if the leather seats have a weird smell. And you’ll get a response from someone who’s REALLY experienced it.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that VR is still quite a lonely experience. You just had to take off your headsets in the Björk exhibition to see the lone figures isolated by the tech.
It’s the same when I watch a film; I want to see my neighbour’s reaction – whether it’s a grimace, a smile or a tear. And before I buy something, I always want to know what other people thought about it.
Virtual reality will never replace the power of people.