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Oculus Goggles To Usher In Era Of “The Virtual Web”
Compelling applications in development for virtual reality platform.
If “Web 1.0″ and “2.0” are the PC internet and “Web 3.0″ is mobile, then “Web 4.0″ might be the VR web. Much in the same way that Apple’s acquisition of Siri formally created the “virtual assistant” market, Facebook’s $2 billion purchase of Oculus Rift has brought virtual reality into (quasi) mainstream focus.
For those who haven’t yet had the chance to wear the Oculus VR goggles, it’s a revelation. One immediately sees why Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg bought the company.
Gaming is the immediate use case. Yet, Oculus and similar headsets are really a new connected platform, a new internet.
How quickly VR goggles sell is a function of pricing and content. But there’s no question in my mind that they will sell, given that pricing will be sub-$350 (and maybe sub $300). The Xbox costs between $199 and $350 by comparison.
Google is dabbling in the VR space with its cardboard teaser effort (and related Tango initiative). Samsung is also developing its own VR goggles as a companion to its mobile devices. Beyond these, there are numerous other VR goggles in various stages of development.
The “VR web” is the opposite of the “internet of things,” though they are like two sides of a coin in a way. The VR web will draw upon real world data and imagery but present self-contained worlds (real and imagined), with more or less photo-realism, depending on the application.
This is not that far removed from “The Matrix.” One can easily imagine people disappearing into virtual worlds that are more exciting, adventurous or stimulating than ordinary life. If you think “internet addiction” is bad today, just wait.
Facebook and a startup called Jaunt are already talking to Hollywood studios and producers to build entertainment experiences that employ VR. Early on there will probably be immersive game-like experiences as companions to mainstream, theatrically-released films (e.g., The Hobbit, Hunger Games, etc.). It’s also possible that 20 years from now the current movie-going experience will be quaint and obsolete, replaced by something VR-based that puts you literally inside the narrative.
VR could completely change the nature of popular entertainment. It could also significantly impact education, travel, sports and other experiences. Imagine virtual tours of The Smithsonian, The Louvre, Machu Pichu, The Great Barrier Reef, the surface of Mars and so on. These could involve real-time interactions with other people, as well. The technology already permits this.
Fast forward a few years. Imagine paying a real cover charge (in Bitcoin) to enter a virtual club where other real people and their avatars are interacting in real-time. This isn’t very far-fetched. And then there’s “virtual sex,” which is also inevitable.
This real-time interactivity in a virtual environment is what drove the vision behind SecondLife and its now-defunct competitors. They were just way ahead of the technology required to fully realize the experience. Now, it’s here.
Another company called Next Galaxy is trying to build VR development tools and standards that will allow developers to more quickly create VR experiences and apps. Several weeks ago. I spoke to the company’s founder Mary Spio, a former engineer at Boeing and Lucasfilm.
Beyond creating tools for other developers it will be creating its own content. Spio’s vision for her company and VR is pretty expansive. Recently, the company announced a deal with VR software developer EON Reality:
Next Galaxy Corp … entered into an agreement with EON Reality to create CEEK – a fully immersive and interactive social virtual reality platform that simulates the communal experience of being at a movie, music concert, sports game, museum, business conference or meeting, spectator event or travel destination. The CEEK platform is being developed for the Oculus Rift with support for other head mounted displays such as the ZEISS Cinemizer and Sony’s Project Morpheus.
Spio hopes to put people at music concerts they can’t attend or sporting events. Imagine virtually attending the World Cup. The quote above indicates the scope of the ambition.
People will probably pay directly for these experiences, which might be streamed live or be available on demand. But there will be myriad advertising and commercial opportunities available. Think about a game or virtual travel experience where one encounters the new BMW i3. You can walk around the car, get into the car, perhaps even take a virtual test drive. Product placement and promotional opportunities will abound.
There’s also potential virtual commerce (v-commerce?). In a Manhattan virtual travel simulation you might walk into the virtual Barneys and buy a suit or shoes that would then be physically shipped to you (virtual goods might also be sold). Accordingly, e-commerce will likely be a viable model. But it will be a very different type of experience than 2D e-commerce on the PC.
Many of these scenarios may sound sci-fi or totally overblown. But having worn the Oculus headset, I don’t think so. After you have a chance to try one, come back and tell me if you think I’m wrong.