My first VR experience

Just five minutes ago I was standing beneath New York’s flatiron building, but as you’ve probably guessed, I wasn’t there. It’s actually 11:10pm, and for the last ten minutes, my neighbours will probably have seen me pointing my iPhone around my bedroom as if filming an indie documentary about ghosts. This is my second VR experience and I feel truly immersed.

It was only last Thursday that my boss challenged me to ‘get that Google Cardboard working’. Within 20 minutes I’d installed the NYTimes’ Vrse app and had downloaded a 700mb clip, designed to work with the headset. It took 30 seconds for me to realise what I was seeing was unlike anything I’d ever seen before. I passed the device to my colleagues and before I knew it several had gathered round, intrigued by what all the excitement was about. There’s no doubt about it, VR is a crowdpleaser.

We’ve read about how virtual reality is going to take over the world for a while now. Facebook bought Oculus for two billion dollars in July 2014, and is now looking at a 2016 Q1 launch of its ‘Rift’ headset. Google launched ‘Cardboard’, a low-tech kit for affordable VR and (it’s estimated) has shipped millions of units.

Dozens of new startups are popping up, like InsiteVR (YC W15). Andreessen Horowitz named VR as one its ‘16 things’ it was interested in investing in, and Y Combinator has updated its ‘Request for Startups’ to include Virtual Reality.

But it’s clear the technology still has a long way to go. Last week, it was revealed that operating the Oculus Rift will require a PC with a specification that off-the-shelf might cost “a thousand dollars”. Of course the media often inflate stories like these, although there’s no doubt powering a headset like the Oculus is going to need some substantial graphics power. [1]

In the enterprise, there seems to be a trend towards using VR to enhance the roles of the “non-desk workforce”, jobs that potentially require a level of foresight or investigation. VR could transform construction/ real-estate/ planning by allowing us to pre-visualise proposed developments within our current environment. Earlier this year Microsoft’s Hololens concept trailer alluded to this. We see the device used by mechanics, plumbers, scientists, all non-desk workers.

There’ll still be a part of me though that feels like VR is now a missed opportunity in terms of building products. I’m finding Geoffrey Moore’s ‘Crossing the Chasm’ particularly interesting at the moment, and while VR is still probably in the ‘innovation’ stage of the adoption lifecycle, I can’t help but feel the most involvement I can have as a developer is as an early adopter.

When the Rift comes out in 2016 there’s a good chance I’ll be buying one, but until then it’ll be interesting to see how the market unfolds.

[1] Here lies a potentially huge opportunity - building hardware powerful enough to run such a device. Intel’s NUC seems to have lost traction recently, but with Iris integrated graphics now capable of running 4k displays, low energy CPUs could be the way forward.

Edit: At Google I/O this last week, it was reported Google had shipped ‘over a million’ unit of its ‘Cardboard’ headset.