For the last couple of days I was at Siggraph in Los Angeles, California. It’s hailed as an interdisciplinary educational experience in the latest computer graphics and interactive techniques. It’s true, that is what it was. Virtual Reality was the star of the show, with a whole quarter of the exhibition area devoted to it.
But I am a real-world enthusiast – ironically with a deep running digital DNA. I love virtual reality, and I get a kick better than bath salts (I imagine) every time I put on an Oculus – doesn’t matter what cheap 3D Wolfenstein sequence I watch. But, I have devoted myself to a career in real-world media, and VR, with all its awesomeness, just simply doesn’t sit well with me.
Why, you ask? Well let’s look at it.
If you’ve ever had the privilege of enjoying a virtual reality experience with Oculus, or some of the post-millennial alternatives that have emerged lately, you will note the complete immersiveness – but before you get there, you will not be able to avoid the inevitable 3 hour queue.
Yes, that’s right. If you’ve experienced Oculus, you’ve waited in a queue. Unless you’re developer, you’ve made the decision to wait in line to see what all the fuss is about.
That’s okay, it’s new; people are interested in emerging technologies – of course the seminars you’ve been to that feature virtual reality headsets will have a long line of geeky enthusiasts. But to me, that is a problem for the future, not just the now.
When I experience VR, I think two things. 1) OMG, this is going to be the future, this is going to replace the TV and the console. Everyone and their mother will get home from work and slap on their headset and you won’t see them again until the next morning.
But 2) I think about our loyal brand advertiser clients, and what value they might gain from this important revolution. I think of the money they will spend investing in custom VR 3D or live-action experiences, and of course, at the very core of it, I will think of the eyeballs they acquire – which, as anyone in media knows, is the raw currency of advertising.
Building a 3D world of Pepsi or Coke that allow users to sail a boat down a waterfall of caramel sparkling liquid glory sounds incredibly immersive and engaging – and no doubt it is – but it won’t come cheap. Creating an experiential event that allows people to adorn a headset and immerse themselves in this psychedelic world sounds like a branding home-run, but what about the devoted souls who are waiting in line?
Let’s make no mistake. Virtual Reality is a one-to-one medium. Just like online. As much as I’d like it to be an Out-Of-Home media experience, it can never be. VR has its place in the home, and while I hope to see an Oculus headset in every household, it is going to be a medium that reaches the individual on a deep and personal level – no different to a gaming console today.
So what’s the good news? Well, there’s the very close cousin of the virtual variety of reality – and that is the world of Augmented Reality. They seem so closely related, yet they are quite different.
Yes, they both involve headsets (which are actually on their way to becoming not the clunky 80s space helmet, but something no different from a pair of Gucci shades). Simply put, VR involves the complete hijacking of a user’s senses and replaces them with an artificial or computer-generated world. AR, on the other hand, uses what you see naturally and overlays augmentations that enhance and adjust the world around you.
These are fundamentally different. Don’t take my word for it, just go and see what our beloved uncle Microsoft is doing with the Hololens. You really need to forgive Microsoft for Windows Vista and Internet Explorer 6. We all make mistakes. Donald Trump didn’t mean what you think he meant – he was talking about her nose!
The Hololens is where it’s at. An increasingly smaller headset allows you to view the world as normal, but overlay digitally generated features. Just like a smartphone; stretch a video screen onto a wall and watch a TV show, place a holographic ornament on your desk, or read your email on the refrigerator. This is a fundamental and majorly significant difference.
It means, and I’m going to say it, your smartphone will be redundant in a few years. That’s right, the little magical rectangle that captured your imagination and practically owned your very existence when it was invented in 2005 is now facing extinction if you can soon wear its emerging nephew on your head and interact with all your apps in the real world around you.
If the headset is small enough, it won’t look stupid if you wear it to work and sit with it in your living room. If all of your apps like email, Skype, Facebook and video player is positioned neatly on your walls and around you, why ever take it off?
And if you use it like that in your home, what about when you leave the home? What if you walk down the street and see a huge billboard with a gorgeous animated Pepsi advert in a placement where no physical billboard currently exists?
If people are walking around with these headsets like they do now with their phones in their pockets, then the real world becomes the same rich canvas that the internet currently is now – with possibilities for advertisers that massively improve on any channel they currently have at their disposal!
If you are in outdoor media – or in any media for that matter – then Augmented Reality is the future – no question. The billboard today will still be there, only it will be digitally generated. You, your mother and your pet Spaniel will all have these headsets in a shockingly few number of years, and Pepsi – if you are listening – let’s talk about what that means for you right now.