After working on a startup for almost a year now, I’ve realized the most important factor that determines the success of early-stage startups: timing. I’ve come to believe that the timing of a product outweighs the actual implementation. If it’s too early, investors will be skeptical, and therefore reluctant to pursue any new investments. If it’s too late, there’s too much competition and you struggle to differentiate yourself. There seem to be years where certain startup trends are “hot”, and unfortunately, VR is currently not one of those fields.
I sometimes wonder why virtual reality is not as popular as I thought it would be. I think about the obstacles to putting VR in the mainstream, and I think that there’s a serious problem with timing. One of the greatest benefits of virtual reality is a core flaw: you’re completely immersed. That’s great for games where you’re captivated by an environment, but a simple activity like navigating through web pages might be a frustrating experience because of the inability to multitask. Usually when I surf the internet, I’ll have other applications open like Evernote and Lightroom, but virtual reality is more about completing one task at a time with complete immersion. As a result, there’s no reason for people to put on a VR headset other than for a small subset of activities.
If the use cases of VR are so limited, then who would actually drop almost 1k on a headset? The answer is no one. Smartphones are now extremely popular throughout the world as they can be cheaply manufactured and tailored for different communities, but I don’t know if virtual reality will have similar potential for global penetration just because I don’t see how people would use it in developing countries. The fact that HTC, one of the leading VR headset manufacturers, has sold less than half a million HTC Vive’s, is pretty telling of how VR is still a niche market. Sure, I see a Facebook post every so often about some Grand Canyon tour for the Google Cardboard, but virtual reality is not making people get out their wallets just yet.
When you consider the price factor, limited mobility, and uncomfortable headsets, it’s easy to see how current VR technologies are not very practical in general. As a result, I’m beginning to doubt if virtual reality is ever going to be globally impactful. Like the case with personal computers, I imagined a world where everyone would have their own VR headset. But now, they remind me of smart watches, where some large company tries to bring it back every so often but they’re still not popular (although this might change in the coming years for wearables). I hope that all these issues regarding VR will be fixed with time, and by the time I graduate college, somebody will have finally implemented VR correctly.
So what changes do I think are necessary? I already tackled this in another post, but there needs to be better and more efficient interaction. I believe that this is the biggest problem in virtual reality that prevents long engagements with headsets. For example, how do we create a faster way to type or input information with Vive/Rift controllers? To make VR truly usable in a personal device, I need to be able to input as fast as I can type. This is just one example, but fixing these problems will increase the number of use cases for VR. I feel as if virtual reality is that one field that everybody is waiting to jump on. VR startups currently either have to go B2B or produce studio work to survive, but I feel like there will be a time in the future when people can simply develop applications that millions can easily download and use, just like how it is on mobile now. But for now, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Only time will tell if virtual reality will ever be popular to the masses.