A recent issue of The Economist reported on Big Tech’s bet on extended reality glasses – the headsets, or head-wear, for virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR.) “Nearly every big technology firm,” according to the breathless report, “is rushing to develop an AR or VR headset, convinced that what has long been a niche market may be on the brink of becoming something much larger.”
The next big platform? The next smartphone, with adoption by everyone from everywhere?
The idea of a new and next platform is enticing, to say the least. The economic rents gathered by the gatekeepers of the smartphone world, Apple and Google, are envied. And yes, smartphone sales are in decline, with annual unit shipments falling some 13% between 2017 and 2021 in the United States, according to IDC research cited by The Economist.
But let’s get real.
First, let’s separate virtual reality from augmented reality. The technology in both is fabulous, for sure.
But there’s a key difference. Virtual reality separates me from daily living. It takes me elsewhere. It can provide a theme park ride without leaving home, an injection of adrenalin amidst visual and auditory amazement. Great for gaming? No question. A huge part of some company’s walled garden of highly-profitable immersive metaverse? I can see it. For gamers and virtual lifers, the transition from a fixed screen to an all-encompassing dive down the digital rabbit hole may be an experience that can’t be beat.
No doubt there’s plenty of money to be made in a growing gaming market measured in billions of worldwide users.
But no, it won’t be the next platform. It will not be the next remote control for daily life, the next necessity for not only the Silicon Valley maven but the Central California farmworker.
There is a ‘next platform’ out there. Perhaps it’s the next-generation-after-next-generation delivery of personal augmented reality wearables. Perhaps tied, to a voice interface, whispering in my eye through natural language processing and generation. Perhaps tied to AI-enabled personal assistance functionality. Whatever it is, it will become a platform, a societal necessity, less through whizzy technology and more because it brings incremental value throughout daily human life.
The next platform will make daily life – life that is filled with human interaction, with the frustrations and joys of living in a messy, unpredictable, physical world – ever better, smarter, and more accessible to more people in more places.
Yes, let the VR guys build their toys and tout their merits. Let us enjoy the laughter and amazement as we take off the headsets with pounding hearts.
But put on a headset to shop for groceries? Put on a headset when a sunny day beckons? Put on a headset when a loved one is ill, when a flight is cancelled, when a child is born?
A new platform awaits. Put your money on the one that you’ll find in daily life.