Time to enter virtual reality

Traveling is no longer so common, work has reduced substantially, we can’t go on vacation abroad, work has become remote, and billions of people are locked up in confined spaces. We want to go out, but we can’t. But if we perceive the world through our senses, how about deceiving them? We can do yoga on a cloud or swim with a shark in our living room through virtual reality.

Virtual reality has already had several false starts, but now it seems to be here to stay and grow. As early as 1995 Nintendo had unsuccessfully released the Virtual Boy. The technology was not ready, heavy and expensive helmets that made anyone sick after 15 minutes, lack of content and standards. But the situation has changed. The Oculus quest, Facebook’s virtual reality helmet, helped my quarantine a lot. The technology is not perfect, but it is much better and there is already very reasonable content. From games and immersive experiences to something that really surprised me, the exercise apps. I replaced my real boxing classes and yoga teacher with virtual versions and spent several hours meditating in distant galaxies. Instead of making WhatsApp calls to my dad, we could play ping pong between Lisbon and Mexico City while we talked, and I played space squash with people from all over the world. Prices start at an affordable €120 for a helmet. Of course, it is still a niche product with little penetration, but demand is starting to increase, the Oculus quest was sold out for most of the first half of the year worldwide and has sold over US$100 million in applications. There are still a few more steps to go, such as making the helmets smaller, a good body recognition and include other senses like touch and smell, but if we add the fact of having big companies like Facebook and Apple (which will launch the first products in the area), the equation seems to be almost complete.

Doesn’t the fact that it is a niche justify that it is too early for companies to enter? Not so much. There are situations where it makes perfect sense, even more so in this new normality. When we can get a helmet to be used by several people, avoid business trips, and improve the sales experience, industries like retail, education, and exhibitions can already start monetizing this technology.

For example, we can turn any village store with 20m2, into a large surface area, instead of having a model refrigerator that has 50 virtual full size. From the moment the customer orders, the refrigerator arrives at their home within 24 hours through normal e-commerce channels. The next level of omnicanality.

Product launches or trade shows where we decrease travel costs, can measure buyer interaction and personalize it, decrease the cost of booths, and increase the reach and duration of events make perfect sense too.

Why do most companies still not invest in these solutions if they are good? There are all sorts of arguments… the same ones they used when they thought e-commerce was a fad, the same ones that led to them not being prepared for digitalization, which in this quarantine has sealed the death of many companies (in some cases still to come in the next period).

Virtual reality is here to stay. Creativity must be used, but let’s see if this time most companies get to this party before it’s full and they can’t get in.

David Bernardo
David Bernardo
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