San Francisco

A second early December trip to San Francisco for some meetings in the Valley and the VRX conference.

Similarly to last year there is a medium term confidence that VR / AR will become a massive market but nervousness in the short term as, despite the fact that all of the main tech players are in the market, the fundamentals are still not quite right to ensure growth. To quote one speaker the “content / platform / hardware intersection is not yet aligned”, so it remains an emerging medium with no clear successful business model identified.

The interesting part about this trajectory is that it has allowed for experimentation, generating some very diverse and creative approaches. There is an increasing understanding that the methodologies of other creative disciplines have something to add, last year theatre was often cited, this year magicians and misdirection came up more than once.

So there are green shoots (including Sony reporting 2M PSVR sales), but no-one was putting a timeline on it as before.

Things that were different from 2016:

A new term is LBE for “location based experiences”.
The successful social elements of console gaming have been adopted into public VR experiences, whether arcade, IMAX or theme park. This has two benefits: firstly, acting as an entry point to VR for those who have not experienced it, helping to habituate the tech and seed an aspiration for home use; and secondly, ensuring that a first VR experience is high quality and transformative, there has been a perception that the negative of a poor early exposure to VR is harming demand.

The increased potential of AR.
The release of ARKit and ARCore software platforms has enabled simple development of AR across a massively expanded “install” base of IOS and Android models (NB: plus Facebook Camera Effects). This clearly opens up a scale opportunity for different types of storytelling or information overlay applications.

The promise of new headsets.
The clear barrier to entry of requiring $1k of PC kit and peripherals, all attached by big wires, is a hurdle which will exclude all but the most committed. But the imminent release of new untethered headsets at a lower pricepoint, e.g Oculus Go, could be an important turning point. Obviously we are at the “massive mobile phone” stage of the technology, so any advancements will help drive wider adoption.

And whilst VR / AR / MR are often lumped together as immersive tech there were some interesting distinctions appearing, seemingly obvious when stated but worth noting. For example, within the brand panel it was clear that VR installations were about values and empathy, where AR treatments were much more call to action. Or on a TV panel where there was a clear distinction made that 360 is not a “gateway drug” to VR, but a very different medium.

Weirdly I got quite excited by probably the most tech-y thing I saw, a cloud based compression system delivering an improved quality VR experience over a 5G enabled network.

Final impressions from meetings across SF / Silicon Valley:

  • the new openness of Magic Leap
  • the lesson of Madefire, you don’t always have to be bleeding edge to create a great experience (and great authoring tool)
  • the classiness of Apple
  • the culture of generosity of both time and insight at ILM
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