For some, the term “virtual reality” may conjure up images of a faraway Jetsons-like future replete with hovercrafts and food in pill form. But in 2016, virtual reality (VR), while nascent, is a very real technology, and a lucrative one at that; one forecast projects that virtual reality and augmented reality will bring in $120 billion by 2020. Read on to learn some of the many ways it is being applied and what to consider as virtual reality is developed further.
Brands are using this technology to immerse their consumers in their brands and products in new and creative ways, such as McDonald’s campaign to have consumers virtually decorate a Happy Meal box. It’s changing how we shop, too, as evinced in NARS’ usage of Facebook 360 technology to let customers try on makeup via their smartphones. While limited hardware adoption is a barrier to more utilization of VR in ecommerce, we can expect VR and AR to play more of a role in the future as consumers seek to try before they buy.
The Virtual Human Interaction Lab at Stanford University has been studying how VR can make us better, more empathetic people. While evidence shows it has the power to do so, its ability to “improve people” may depend on execution; for example, a 2009 study found that placing people in dark-skinned avatars seemed to activate negative racial stereotypes, potentially due to the VR experience simply not feeling real enough. We also don’t yet know the long-term effects of VR and the role it will play in people’s lives once it ceases to be a novelty.
Currently, high cost for full-feature VR systems (e.g., Facebook’s Oculus Rift at $599) as well as specific technology requirements (e.g., Google’s Pixel phone to use Google Daydream View) are barriers to entry for the average consumer, and for device sales.