Vertigo. Fear. Empathy. Scoble is excited about VR and AR. Should you be excited too?

by Edward Cone

Robert Scoble built a durable media brand around his enthusiasm for technology, but he seems even more passionate than usual about virtual and augmented reality -- and this is a guy who posed in the shower wearing Google Glass. We traded messages – Scoble from San Jose and London as he started a month-long speaking tour, me from my couch – and his visceral response to the virtual experience went beyond its potential impact on business and consumer markets; here’s our exchange, lightly edited for clarity:

 

EC: You seemed a little frustrated on a recent Facebook thread with people who don’t get that VR is kind of a big deal. But most of us haven’t had demos, and we have lived through some hype cycles...

 

Scoble: I've watched hundreds of people get their first demos and almost universally people, when coming out of those demos, say "I had no idea it is so cool."

 

Why? Because it is a new experience: one that immerses you in the media. Your mind feels emotions it only has felt in real life and not while watching media on a regular screen. Vertigo. Fear. Empathy.

 

 

It's that emotion that caught my attention, I've never seen anything like it for any other product in my life.

 

So is it ready for primetime? Not just in terms of performance, but also user experience? Even a vestigial headset will turn some people off, so the experience has to be pretty great.

 

I think so. But usually that is a loaded question. Will it get the kind of market saturation that, say, mobile phones have? No, not anytime soon. The high-end headsets, like Oculus Rift, are still way too expensive and nerdy (you need a PC to run them), and there just aren't enough of the huge franchise movie or game titles available yet to satisfy mainstream demand. Yet.

 

That said, you are seeing a range of devices, from Google Cardboard on the bottom, to Samsung Gear VR in the middle, which are ready for consumers in mass numbers and do bring a lot of value to the market.

 

Your interviewwith Atheer predicts that business use will drive early adoption. I get training and simulation value, what else will drive uptake?

 

That is AR. Are we talking about AR or VR? They are different and will have different drivers.

 

EC: OK I get the distinction but less so the difference -- so help a business audience understand why the differences matter.

 

With VR all you see is virtual stuff. Big drivers there are gaming and 360-degree media. With AR virtual stuff is laid on top of the real world. Big drivers there are enterprise apps. Boeing uses it to train people how to maintain jets, for instance.

 

VR is going to consumers now. AR won't be consumer for at least two more years.

 

What are the barriers to adoption? You have compatibility issues (Rift and Apple, headsets...

 

The high end headsets are tethered right now and are too expensive for an average family. But the real barrier? Most people think it's weird until they try it. Then they become raving fans, even if they can't afford it.

Edward Cone heads the Technology Practice for Oxford Economics.