By 2018, estimates say, there will be over 171 million active virtual reality users. With giants like Google, Samsung, HTC and Sony competing for the consumer virtual-reality console market, and many more throwing their lot in through crowdfunding and niche campaigns, the future looks bright for the new, 3D medium.
Related: 10 Amazing Uses of Virtual Reality
There are games, movies and even art programs being developed to ensure that virtual reality is a success -- but there's just one thing missing: advertising. How much longer do we have to wait for virtual reality to become the best ad platform the world has ever seen?
I don't think we'll have to wait much longer, but I'm not concerned by the slow growth of virtual reality; in fact, I think it's a good sign. It seems like things that catch on quickly also are more prone to fizzling out unexpectedly, because they're solving a problem users already know they have, instead of really innovating.
Virtual reality, on the other hand, is a fundamental shift in how we consume media, so it only makes sense that it takes time to become popular. Think of it as a slow burn.
Some may think I'm overly optimistic, but consider:
Facebook Is investing.
When did social media really take off, and I mean really? Sure, MySpace and Friendster were fun for a bit, but when did posting updates about your day become a normal thing for adults to do? If you're thinking of Facebook, you're right -- the company is not only one of the most respected names in tech, it's also what I would consider the father and mother of a societal shift.
Facebook's history of innovating consumer media and entertainment, including how we even define media and entertainment, means that its investment in virtual reality packs a big punch when it comes to votes of confidence.
First, there was the company's purchase of Oculus, arguably the first virtual reality headset that was actually appealing and showed potential for profit. Next, Facebook is also exploring new ways of using VR for fun, aside from games ,for such purposes as socializing and art.
Additionally, Facebook recently released a toolkit to make it easier to capture and share virtual-reality video. It's no surprise that Facebook recognized user-generated content as the catalyst for great new online-entertainment mediums, and from an observer's point of view, it's very promising to see the company trying to spark that flame.
China loves VR.
Americans tend to be in the majority in terms of early adopters of new technology. That means that while we often catch on to tech trends, we aren't the first. To see the innovators, we turn to Asia, which is why it's so incredibly promising that China loves virtual reality.
China's VR market is zooming-in on $9 billion, with over 200 startups working on bringing the industry forward even faster. Chinese companies have made low-cost models readily available, as well, which means that anyone who wants to try out virtual reality can do that.
As our economy becomes increasingly global, and the world's cultures continue to blur and sample from one other, I can't see a world in which, once China, Japan and South Korea love a technology, it doesn't spread around the world. Once those affordable but fully functional headsets make it across the pond, it's time for the next big thing . . .
VR is practically made for shopping.
I'm going to be honest here: I don't think that advertisements that are anything like internet pop-ups will fly in virtual reality, if for no other reason than they'd either scare or seriously annoy users. I do, however, think that product placement and immersive brand experiences will be the new wave of consumerism.
First off, think of the last time you wanted to buy something for your home, such as furniture. How sure were you that it would look good? How long did you take measuring the spot in which you planned to put it? With a VR headset, the entire experience becomes intuitive.
As another example, think about the last time you picked a vacation spot; would it have been nice to look around it first? With virtual reality, any "experience" brand will be able to give you a "teaser tour" of your vacation, which will go a long way toward making sure that guests are not only excited to arrive, but happy with the experience once they do.
Finally, but possibly most importantly, VR looks like it will change our more traditional shopping habits forever. I don't think that we'll ever stop going to stores and looking at all of the goods on display, whether we can afford them or not. However, I do think stores could make themselves even more irresistible by investing in more high-end virtual reality gear, including free-roam treadmills (which sync up with VR games) and the like, to give us expanded tours of what they offer.