Tag Archives: virtual reality

🎢🎢Did Virtual Reality survive its rollercoaster month?

This month has seen an avalanche of virtual and augmented reality news as the industry lurches from optimism to pessimism and back to optimism again. All in the space of four weeks.

Microsoft, Facebook, Sony, Samsung, Apple and Nokia all had something to say. Does it still matter or will it go the way of 3D TVs?

If it aint broke…

Microsoft has its own tried and tested way of dominating a market. It basically consists of making software and distributing it through as many manufacturers as it can sign up.

This worked wonders in the PC world, but not so much in the tablet and mobile markets, where it has had to build its own hardware in the former  (rather successfully) and ended up shutting down in the latter (even Bill Gates is using Android now). I still think Microsoft should build on top of Android but that’s for another week.

Despite these two setbacks, it is following the same recipe for mixed reality headsets – that’s part virtual reality and part augmented reality.

Samsung have now announced their first device powered by the Windows Mixed Reality platform joining Dell, Acer, HP and Lenovo.

These don’t need additional external sensors to work so setup is much easier and they have a better field of view when you are inside the virtual environment than the top end competition today.

They’re all priced between $350 and $500 and suggests the price of headsets are coming down from the circa $700 level last year

Strangely, Microsoft seems to be focused on gaming (there is a partnership with SteamVR, which is the largest platform for PC gaming and a demo inside its hugely successful Halo game world).

With few examples of great VR games and so many manufacturers entering the market, I suspect we will see both increased price competition and some manufacturers exiting early as there surely is not enough demand even at this reduced price point.

Their focus should be on business though.

Till next time..

One company already exiting is Nokia. They were one of the early entrants with a $45,000 VR camera that could be used by film studios. The market just grew too slowly for them and they are shuttering the division and focusing on their other experiment – digital health instead, where they see more immediate potential.

Cue pessimism from the VR/AR industry on whether this is the end of VR or not. Pretty much a repeat of the same pessimism that occurred when Apple launched the new iPhone without any major augmented reality news last month.

On life support?

Markets don’t get created just because a company or VR evangelist wants it to. It needs a killer reason to exist and underlying all the pessimism is an acceptance by the industry that there still isn’t a killer app for VR. The nascent industry initially focused on gaming, before switching to film and now there is a focus on communication.

All the focus is on consumer usage – when in reality business is seeing increasing adoption for training, product design and communication.

Similar to the PC, business adoption is coming first and eventually killer consumer products will also arrive as adoption increases. That potentially bodes well in the short term for Microsoft’s partners (if Microsoft can get the developers on board) and less so for Sony or Facebook/Oculus.

Microsoft Spaces 2

Microsoft it seems also believes communication is important and have picked up AltspaceVR after it shut down – thankfully this is not a reincarnation of Microsoft’s previous social networking platform, Spaces.

This gives Microsoft a communications layer to its mixed reality platform and places it directly in competition with Facebook Spaces – Facebook’s own VR social platform.

Again it seems to be consumer focused, but maybe we will see it built into its Slack competitor – Teams, which it launched globally in March.

The giant stirs.

Oculus has been the giant in virtual reality despite not really meeting expectations either on the hardware (not as good as the Hive) or the software (no one has really succeeded here yet).

Facebook’s $3bn purchase will do that much for you it seems.

Last week was its big conference and it was littered with announcements. First up its clear that $400 (probably £400 in the UK) is the new price point for high-end VR. The Rift (which is tethered to a PC similar to the Microsoft headsets) had been discounted for the summer but has now been made permanently $400 after increased traction.

One of the early success stories in VR was Samsung’s Gear headset. Oculus worked closely with Samsung to develop it but now Oculus has one of its own – the Go, priced at $200. It is mobile in the sense you can spin around in a circle unlike the tethered headsets. Walking around still does not work though.

They also seem to have shot themselves in the foot by releasing a business version which has the same hardware for more than double the price. In exchange for that you get a commercial license and a longer warranty…

Experience is king.

So all well and good but its still just more hardware. Without a great experience it might as well just be a doorstop.

Bigscreen raised $11m to create a VR movie theatre. The experience is surprisingly good but it isn’t the killer app. Even Bigscreen seem to think so as they are focused on building a virtual office platform. I guess a virtual WeWork, which could be a huge opportunity given the increase in people working from home and freelancing.

Facebook also updated their Spaces app with the ability to create 3D objects inside its virtual environment. Maybe an early step towards a 3D Minecraft clone but overall nothing to see here really.

Facebook also showed the difficulty of showcasing VR and its own ineptitude when it streamed a video with its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg in disaster-stricken Puerto Rico. It reeked of disaster tourism and unsurprisingly ended up with Zuckerberg apologising.

When Apple launched the new iPhone, people within AR/VR expected big things from them. Supposedly it was going to happen but the demos did not meet Apple’s expectations in time. It is only a few months since the development kit was launched though so a bit of patience might be needed.

The question is can the hardware companies keep themselves afloat in the meantime.

At least today, there is yet to be the major killer experience (beyond the initial wow…) for consumers. Over to the business world.

👋👋Whats next for messaging as another stalwart departs.

This week we say goodbye to a messenger app that dominated North America and look at a new battle for messenger supremacy.

Its finally gone.

AOL Instant Messenger is shutting down in December. For most of you this will be a “so what” moment but it will be on almost all tech news sites as it was by far the biggest instant messaging service in North America. Here in the UK, MSN messenger was king for many years but that shut down in 2014.

Of course today it is all about WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Snapchat. Originally, these companies did little to differentiate from old messengers other than being a better experience on the mobile. That it seems was enough.

Today though, the capabilities of these apps are increasing. Filters, augmented reality, chatbot and of course more artificial intelligence.

But language continuously evolves around us and as technology opens new ways to communicate, so does the way we communicate. Today the world is emoji crazy. Tomorrow though smart assistants, augmented/virtual reality and holograms are all going to have a large impact on how we communicate.

Facebook announced Spaces last year, their vision of social networking in the future which I suspect will be looked back upon much the same way as we now look back on Microsoft Bob, Microsoft’s attempt to transform the computer interface. We still don’t have mainstream 3D computer interfaces but they are coming and with it will come the ability to communicate within these digital realms.

Microsoft Bob

Interoperability is not important.

Meanwhile, Amazon has brought its Alexa calling capabilities to the UK. It will allow you to communicate with other Alexa users (and hopefully call US phone numbers as well).

Now there are a lot of Alexa users out there but it is still only a tiny minority of my friends. It isn’t like there is anything compelling for me to use it.

Amazon is a late entrant to the messaging space though early within the smart assistant space. Still, this is not an open and new market and with heavy competition from Google and Apple it is going to be an uphill battle to make Alexa calling a real success.

Now if it allowed me to call other platforms, message WhatsApp, Snap or Facebook Messenger – that would be useful.

There are of course benefits strategically to Amazon building an Alexa-only calling capability – it serves to lock people into the platform and reduce churn. That only happens though with major adoption, which of course they don’t have.

Back in the 2005, Google launched Google Talk its first of many unsuccessful forays into messaging. Very quickly though they made it possible to chat to Yahoo, AIM and MSN contacts and the big players worked together to create a way for them to interconnect. It never really worked though and its struggles do not bode well for Amazon. This was not due to the open nature of the platform but rather a poor user experience and completely missed the mobile opportunity.

Unfortunately that industry-wide effort to create interoperability was abandoned and we are left with messenger silos again today. If I only use Snap and you want to message me you either have to download Snap or fallback on SMS.

History seems to suggest that this interoperability will only happen when a market becomes mature and stable. Perhaps the instant messaging market had matured enough for that to start happening only for mobile to disrupt it.

Perhaps though we could agree on some basic standards which all platforms can build to and allow for basic messaging between platforms.

Without this, unfortunately we are not likely to see any interoperability between devices for a long time without external intervention – that intervention in turn would slow down innovation so I guess we are destined to continue in the same vein for now.

Perhaps we will see WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger release “apps” (aka skills) into the Alexa and Google Home ecosystems and make the whole Alexa calling thing disappear.