Since this year’s CES, many in the tech community were talking about how VR needs its killer app... a reason for its existence, or it will disappear. As Ian Bell, CEO of Digital Trends said in a recent DigiDay article, “We see technologies that are always on the precipice, but if they don’t hurry and add intrinsic value, the consumer is going to move on. VR is in that space. People right now look at it and say it’s cool but it’s also kind of gimmicky. Unless someone steps up and makes VR relevant, people will move on.”
To an extent, I agree that VR definitely needs to improve in all areas - both in terms of software and hardware ― to reach mass adoption. What I don’t agree with is that that VR is going to be left for dead unless someone “makes it relevant soon.”
VR doesn’t need a killer app to succeed. VR itself is a killer app. VR is a medium.
There is a bit of an education gap that needs to be filled. The reason people argue that VR will go the route of 3DTV is because they don’t understand the difference between a feature and a medium. 3DTV is a feature of television, it’s not different from regular television. Television is the medium because it is separate from other mediums, like a book for example. Arguing that VR needs to prove itself to succeed would be like arguing that someone would have needed to write a great book for books, as a medium, to succeed. The power of the ability to communicate ideas by writing is why books succeed as a medium, not because a single book became popular. VR is no different in that regard, except that VR communicates ideas via experiences rather than words. The fundamental power of being able to communicate via experience is why, eventually, VR will be used by billions of people.
So, if VR’s success won’t hinge on a single silver bullet piece of content and its success is based more on a question of time, then how long it will take to be used by billions of people? In other words, how long will it take for artists and creatives to understand how to communicate ideas with it, for it to be comfortable, and for it to be inexpensive?
When will VR’s reach its tipping point?
For me, I think the three pillars of VR content will be social platforms, narrative experiences, and games ― in that order. Each pillar will feed the other pillar in interesting ways, driving adoption in the process. A growing social platform would feed demand for gameplay within it. A narrative experience could have social elements, driving social. A game could also incorporate narrative elements as well as social.
VR has already more than doubled its user base every year since Oculus was founded, and if that trend continues, which I think is likely, it will still be 4-5 years before VR has 100 million users. By that point, VR will be a big and mature enough platform to really take off, where you have a large user base buying content to fund the creation of some seriously awesome content. It will take at least another 4-5 years after that to reach a billion users, and by that point will be a major computing platform. So, within a decade it’s fairly reasonable to think that VR could have a billion users.
I could be wrong, the adoption rate could be slower if the experiences aren’t good enough, or the hardware isn’t affordable and accessible. However, the adoption rate will always keep continuing on an upward trend as long as the hardware is being produced.
And while the consumer market grows over the next few years, the market for VR across industries including health, education, medicine and construction could provide even more potential to the success of the industry. As an example, the use of VR in cognitive behaviour therapy to treat patients with social anxieties or phobias is already proving its worth, and with the biggest tech companies on earth all still firmly committed to VR, things will only keep getting better.