It’s weird that Virtual Reality (VR) is still in the status of “barely there” “up and coming” technology. It’s been a part of the cultural conversation for decades and over the years there were many various daring conceptualizations of an idea — from mere extensions of everyday life to outlandish otherworldly experiences. What’re the virtual reality problems that stand in the industry’s way of skyrocketing?
Until recently it was all on paper or in early prototype stages — far away from the majority of consumers. Now things have changed, somewhat, but it is still hard to say whether it will actually stick in any lucrative manner. In other words — it is a rather perplexing moment for an industry. This is extremely problematic for anyone who is trying to do something substantial with it.
The good sign is that Augmented Reality has become a thing and there is more than one viable solution for applying AR for business. However, it doesn’t mean it makes the VR business easier to pull off.
Here’s a little bit breakdown of major challenges in developing high-quality virtual reality applications.
Read also: Challenges with AR App Development
One of the major roadblocks regarding building a business in the Virtual Reality segment is the price tag of the whole affair. Development can cost you anywhere from $8,000 (for a very simple game) to $100,000 and that’s not the limit. A basic virtual or augmented reality e-commerce shop development would be around $15-25K, depending on the requirements you have.
The other part of the issue is headsets. Despite the fact that Google started selling cheap cardboard Virtual Reality headsets for $15, most consumers consider the gear very costly because they look at the Oculus Rift (that would cost around $599) or HTC Vive (quite expensive at $799).
Talking about the consumers, you need to analyze your target audience and ask yourself a question: would they invest their money into something the majority aren’t used to?
For example, if you are developing a custom VR e-commerce mobile app, would the people who use your app actually buy anything there? If your answer is yes, then great!
All in all, this is one of the things every new technology has to face. There are four major reasons for that:
- Lack of competition on the market;
- Investors concerns about the industry’s prospects;
- Lack of widespread consumer acceptance (around 23% of consumers and businesses aren’t eager to accept the new tech);
- Lack of excessive demand on the consumer’s side.
However, there is an upside. Despite the lack of commercial gain, developers of VR-content have time to get a better grasp on technique in order to deliver the goods when the demand will start to grow.
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Is there any future for the technology that can’t offer anything substantial? Despite seemingly limitless aspirations and boundless ambitions — there is still not much to bring on the table in terms of quality VR content (we’re not talking about games here, those guys have been using VR/AR for years now).
Engaging, truly innovating content is the biggest challenge the VR industry is now facing. There is already a killer feature — virtual reality, interaction with anything you can imagine.
Now it is time for a killer app that will do it justice. At the moment there is not much compelling content that uses VR to its full potential. It is still at the point of figuring out the ways it can be done.
The gaming industry is still the most lucrative market for VR at the moment but there is untapped potential in other fields — most notably in art, science, education, military, and eCommerce.
It can be a literal marketplace with full-on service and demonstration. On the other hand - it can turn into a carnival of offers.
VR in education opens up a whole new chapter, for example, teaching science. With its help, one can depict chemical reactions, physical processes — break them down into elements to explain visually in more excruciating detail. On the other hand — it also may greatly help to model experiments.
Things get even more ambitious upon going into art territory.
- Let’s take the simple act of reading a book. Imagine reading a book in VR-gear. What can it be? It can be a glorified children’s book with pictures come to life, jumping out at or sucking you inside to participate or something else entirely — like a literal journey through words with comments, variations, and permutations.
- Or imagine a museum or art gallery where you can walk around through historical reconstruction or even take part in them or simply look at the digital copies of art pieces.
- We can it a step further and construct wholly original spaces free of physical limits and common sense. Something like a bigger, better version of Second Life. Or experiences akin to the space-time travel sequence from “2001: A Space Odyssey”.
- There is also another thing - much-despised advertisements - imagine getting into a torrent of all sorts of ads - surreal collage pop-art experience.
We can go on like this all day long - there are literally endless possibilities.
Despite being well-known and rather popular in tech circles — VR is not widely accepted as a legitimate thing by the public. It is seen more as a toy.
Part of the reason for that is that it is out of reach for the target audience. Most people simply don’t understand what VR is capable of. Some people can’t even tell the difference between Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR).
Marketing can handle awareness, but true adoption can come only after consumers will be able to get a taste of it and form a habit. One of the ways of handling it is to let the public experience the thing on their own. It can be done in public places, expos, conferences.
In order to find a solution, we must look at how the situation was handled for touchscreen technology. It was a gradual exploration of the subject in baby steps — in a manner of “hey! Discover this? Great, huh?”.
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Let's address elephant in the room — at this point, there are no viable cost-effective development plans for any VR-oriented company. There are two reasons for that:
- the industry is too young (besides gaming);
- the market segment is too small (but growing steadily).
VR suffers from the lack of vision thing that would tie it all together. There are simply not many examples of any business strategies not to mention a successful one.
While there are some really effective ways of applying AR for business — most of them are barely usable in VR. The technologies might be similar, but the approaches are vastly different.
The challenging part is that in order to come up with a successful strategy you need to do a rather uncomfortable “try — fail — try again — fail better” routine. This may be an option for a corporation but usually not something that a low-key development company can afford.
Next in line of the money-related challenges is rather a severe thing. One of the key factors in healthy growth and competition in the industry is a wide variety of ways to make money out of technology. If one can’t generate revenue out of his venture — then it is unlikely to go anywhere. That is the case in the current state of the VR industry.
However, that is more of a question of time than a real problem. VR technology is slowly but surely moving towards the mainstream. And judging from the growing amount of content — at this point, it is more of a marketing challenge than anything else. There is a need to explain the technology and its capabilities, overcome bad press, and trend fatigue.
We live in a strange moment of time. While users are at an all-time high of digital immersion, they are also at an all-time high in terms of exposure to incoming dangers. Cybersecurity and data privacy is a sensitive issue in every industry. Because of its novice state — it is especially critical for the VR industry to come up with an effective solution.
Stakes are high — a couple of high-profile hacks or cyber-attacks can derail the entire industry and throw it back a decade or so in terms of audience acceptance and investors' trust.
And that is where the challenge comes. While there is a set of precautions regarding known dangers — there is also a vast realm of the unknown regarding security issues in VR. Even more so — to quote Mr. Rumsfeld there are too many unknown unknowns.
There are challenges and then there are industry-crushing challenges. The question of how VR-gear affects health is one of the most critical to the development of the entire industry. If there is even the slightest bit of danger — the industry will be slammed into oblivion by public opinion and then most likely by legislation.
To make matters worse — research on the subject is still too scarce, inconclusive and because of that rather insufficient.
VR’s long-term health effects are barely known. And what is known is not certain to be claimed as a fact. This problem is twofold. One is physical. The other is mental.
Regarding physical effects — there are some definite facts about temporary side effects. If you take Oculus Rift’s health and safety document — you will find a list of potential after-effects.
Basically: if you use a VR-gear for too much — you may experience a headache, queasiness, and blurred vision. But that is something that can be also said about reading a book.
It is far more complicated with the effect on mental state. There is evidence that there might be a transformation of behavior due to prolonged exposure to ultra-realistic virtual reality environments. Such bleedthrough may have a certain effect on everyday behavior and can seriously affect social interaction and even perception of reality.
The most obvious challenge for VR applications is a power-based limitation. While that might be not much of a problem for desktop-based gear — it is definitely something to reckon with in the mobile realm. Batteries simply can’t sustain prolonged immersive experience the way desktop-based gear can.
Batteries have their limitations and you need to remember that VR/AR (or any graphics-intense) apps have high energy consumption. That means these limitations must be taken into consideration during the design phase of developing an application.
The problem is multi-faceted and it directly affects the perception of the entire industry. The basic purpose of any content is to deliver some kind of experience. If the gear can’t handle it in full — it limits the experience and muddies the impression. That is bad for business.
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In many ways — VR is the new undiscovered country. There are still no rules, no code of conduct, and barely any strings attached. As Brion Gysin said, “Nothing is true, everything is permitted”.
The current position of VR is very much reminiscent of the Schrödinger Cat paradox — it is there but it is not there but it is definitely there but definitely not very much at all and so on and so forth.
The situation can be best described by a couple of lines from Leonard Cohen’s “Democracy” — “It’s coming’ from a feeling that is ain’t exactly real or it’s real but it’s ain’t exactly there”. Or if cutting the crap — just good old “it’s complicated”.
But simply thinking about all the possibilities is breathtaking.
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