The year began with much promise of what’s to come in VR. CES was flooded with cutting-edge technologies on display as leading tech giants like Oculus, Samsung and HTC showcased ‘mainstream’ VR headsets – affordably priced for the average consumer. IDC forecasted that worldwide shipments of VR hardware would reach 9.6 million units and generate $2.3 billion in revenues in 2016. So, let’s look at the current state of VR and what may be in store for the future.
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Where’s VR been?
Virtual reality has been primarily used in the gaming sector and this year consumers were expected to spend $5.1 billion on VR gaming hardware. But the technology has faced its share of challenges in this segment. Critics have condemned VR for being geared toward males and lacking the general appeal to the female audience. This isn’t too surprising as 77 percent of men ages 18 to 29 play video games compared to 57 percent of young women according to the Pew Research Center. However, for mainstream adaption, VR must remember the ladies. Wearable technology like VR headsets are quite intimate so it needs to fit properly on their ‘smaller’ bodies (compared to men).
In a study conducted by YouVisit, a virtual travel firm, there are 23 million people in the U.S. who have tried a VR experience and in April 2016, Samsung Gear VR reported that one million people had used its headset – a major milestone for the company. With VR, consumers are transported into virtual worlds through life-like content. The tourism industry has capitalized on VR to provide potential visitors with the ability to tour rooms in VR. Travelers can experience lounging by the pool in the Dominican Republic in VR for a true taste of what’s to come. Interestingly, VR tours have allowed businesses to convert more online visitors into qualified leads and physical visits. After all – seeing is believing.
Where will VR take us?
The opportunities for VR are vast. Consumers want all-encompassing experiences where they are transported into ‘realistic’ virtual environments and can interact with the digital world in a new way. So, VR has made strides in the hardware sector, but what’s new with the content? The content and the experiences VR can create for users will be a turning point driving growth in the industry and opportunities for new uses and applications. Yet, it will also be VR’s greatest challenge as developers must build functional content that is also interesting and valuable to users. There were 200,000 developers registered to build games for the Oculus Rift which means VR apps could become a major source of revenue for Facebook in the near future. Sony recently launched the PlayStation VR that connects to the PlayStation 4 console – a unique concept for sure, but are developers going beyond gaming?
Perhaps. VR has the potential to redefine how movies, sports and music are being enjoyed. Jaunt makes a hardware and software suite for VR including everything from VR cameras to a VR app. The company has raised a reported $100 million, some of which comes from companies like Disney and Sky. Disney offers Jaunt connections to TV media and sports, via ESPN. This partnership is expected to be a game-changer in experiencing VR as it’s a more intimate connection than watching the Patriots in the Gillette Stadium as you’re really up close to the action. For music enthusiasts, VR can give individuals front-row seats to see Rihanna without paying those hefty prices. According to KZero, 28 million people could be paying for VR hardware and content by 2018 which is up from 4.8 million estimated early adopters in 2016.
The growth of VR has created an opportunity for experienced tech PR agencies who focus on consumer electronics. While VR has made great strides in 2016, the hardware and software still needs to generate mass appeal – and that’s where PR can help. Tech companies can utilize the PR ‘know how’ from top firms to help propel this industry toward the mainstream audience. The average American isn’t adopting the technology because they don’t understand how VR can fit into their lives so PR pros need to highlight how much VR can enhance their everyday experiences. With a compelling media strategy, VR can gradually make its way into the hands of the average consumer. I guess we’ll just have to wait and ‘see’ where VR will take us in the coming year.