(Photos: Lionel Chok/iMMERSiVELY)
By Lionel Chok
Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) have both undergone exciting developments and faced challenges. In the past two or three years alone, we have seen many challenges that greatly affect these emerging technologies.
We find that the key problem is fragmentation, which has been a hurdle over the last few years. Particularly for VR, we see this in terms of the number of platforms out there for users to understand and adopt the technology. It is more varied than in the smartphone world, wherein users are just using two main operating systems, Android and iOS. For VR, we have the Oculus, VIVEPort and SteamVR, among others, so there's a fragmentation of different headsets and platforms that people can use.
Cost is also an issue. For example, deploying a VR system with a gaming laptop could easily cost about $5,000. VR gear that requires certain models of smartphones do not come cheap either.
While VR relies heavily on gear or equipment, AR is more dependent on environment. In AR, you are interacting with a virtual or augmented creation that is dependent on your external environment. Thus, depending on the environment that you're in, AR today might not always fulfil or deliver what you had intended, particularly when the environment has very low light or very bright.
Learning curve, sparks of growth
However, the aforementioned challenges serve as learning points. Because of these difficulties, stakeholders – including Oculus and HTC VIVE – are all very focused on resolving them by putting their heads together and seeing how they can make the technology better.
iMMERSiVELY at work.
It’s also noteworthy that this effort is not just from the big tech giants but also from the ground up. We see a lot of tech start-ups that are coming together in terms of producing content. There's also an increase in start-ups developing all sorts of different AR- and VR-related tech to enable users to have a more seamless experience. Examples include anti-nausea software development kits as well as eye-tracking for data analytics.
Even right down to hardware such as headsets, we see all-in-one headsets that don't require mobile phones being rolled out. These come with their own CPU, hard disk and graphics chip so that you can utilise it as an all-in-one system.
Based on these developments, one of the big key predictions is that adoption will increase quite a bit when people get their hands on these all-in-one systems, with a likely price point of between $200 and $300.
For many, this could be seen as slightly cheaper than a mobile smartphone, so there will be a domino effect – some early adopters might be the curious and find themselves getting plugged in to the headsets' own store, or get connected online to the various stores that enable them to look at content.
Another possibility is that these headsets will come paired with a controller, which enables users to play games and do various sorts of interaction. I think this pairing is going to help people explore not just recreational games, but also learn from apps for B2B purposes, such as virtual showrooms and virtual training.
Augmented reality (AR) in action, adding virtual elements to real-world exhibits. (Photo: iMMERSiVELY )
Apple and Google have come up with what we call “AR 2.0”. ARKit and ARCore enables you to map AR into certain depth instead of just flat surfaces. The technology sounds promising, but it's still not as widely adopted because they can only be delivered for certain OS and mobile phone models.
For AR content, we do see some specialised content that helps the adoption so far. There are videos and online buzz about AR measuring tapes, AR online interior design, among others. I think AR will have a very specific purpose for certain industries. But overall, it's still going to take something like a well-known game for people to come on board, something like Pokémon Go.
Of course, Pokémon Go is not really an AR game per se, because a lot of the users switch off their cameras while they are playing the game, thus not using the ARfeature fully. Also, Pokémon is a 20-year-old trademark brand name. But I think whoever is trying to think of creating a new killer app for AR has a very challenging task ahead.
"Immersive media in AR/VR is really a fitting marriage and bridge between media and tech."
VR’s dynamic duo: Gaming and film
One industry that is pushing VR forward and experiencing greater adoption is of course, gaming. People are more willing to try a technology in terms of entertainment and gaming first, before they realise its potential to do more.
For example, Zero Latency, a multi-player VR game, is already in Singapore. We might see more people trying it out just for entertainment ona weekend out, and then when they are done and had fun, they'll realise that “oh, this has got potential for my business!” So these are good touchpoints, where entertainment is involved.
VR cinema has also been going around the world, and some film festivals have now adopted a new category for VR films. This will probably reach many users as well, because it's a different kind of content, and everyone welcomes compelling content and movies.
Achieving success slowly – but surely
Immersive media in AR/VR is really a fitting marriage and bridge between media and tech. It has a lot of potential to move forward to bring Singapore out into the international community and market in terms of not just tech development, but also the stories we can tell through VR.
However, we see a lot of businesses saying that they do VR, when in fact, what they do is 360-degree content only. So we want to establish that the importance of using headsets for immersion as immersing your users with well-produced content is key. Businesses themselves need to be upskilled, know what the actual deliverables are for them, and be realistic about it. There are opportunities for businesses is to deep dive and understand how the tech works and how it can be integrated and applied to their businesses, and subsequently work with AR and VR companies to explore what we can do.
In terms of the business mindset, it’s important to understand that AR or VR is not going to be a numbers game. You're not going to be able to finish content and say that it's going to reach 500 eyeballs in the next one hour. It's a very immersive, personalised experience, and once you have wowed the core audience, you need to look at the road map to design how best to bring that number up.
Having said all these, I think the evolution will happen slowly, and 2018 is not going to be the year – yet. It's still going to take some time. We might also see the integration that would really push AR/VR forward – said integration being things like VR with IoT, or VR with AI or data analytics that will help more businesses adopt it, creating growth from B2B use then rolling out to B2C.
Lionel Cheok is the Founder and Creative Technologist of iMMERSiVELY.