We live in an era where technology is constantly evolving and changing. However, the development and hype around VR/AR has stalled over the past year. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one surprised by the timing of Apple’s entry into VR and AR. If their headset had been released a year ago, the hype would have been enormous. But why has interest in the virtual world waned? My theory is that we are held back by our limited view of what the technology could actually be. VR (Virtual Reality), AR (Augmented Reality), and spatial computing are some of the most exciting recent developments. These technologies offer a whole new level of interaction and experience, and have the potential to revolutionize everything from entertainment to education and work.
But are we really ready for the digital experience that AR is capable of? Do we truly understand what immersive computer experiences should be? The technology is fantastic, but the VR/AR experience is still stuck in a 2D-based screen mindset. Now that we can finally use our environment as an augmented reality, we are content to simply fill it with 2D windows.
Despite the incredible technology embedded in Apple Vision Pro, examples from Apple’s user experience primarily consist of 2D objects placed in the AR environment. Pictures, PDFs, Excel sheets, and websites are just displayed as slabs here and there. We need to think bigger. Think differently! In a true immersive experience, we should be able to enter and engage with data in a completely new way that can only be experienced in the virtual world. A website should be a digital house that we walk into, for example. A movie should be a 360-experience where I become part of the adventure. With the help of AI generation, the adventure could be different every time I participate, note the choice of word, in the film.
An immersive experience is about shifting from observing to participating.
My son, an avid gamer, often plays VR games. When he puts on the VR headset, he is transported to a completely new world. He can explore this world, interact with objects and characters in it, and even feel the sensation of actually being there. This is the power of VR – the ability to create such an immersive experience that the boundary between the virtual and the real world blurs.
I recently talked to my son about how we used to watch movies on VHS tapes. I described to him how we used to go to a box or a shelf, pick a tape, and feed it into a VHS player to watch a movie. His first comment was: “Wow, that’s how YouTube should be in the Oculus headset!” And I could only agree.
When brave museums step into virtual experiences, they unfortunately rarely aim high. Instead of creating something that cannot otherwise be experienced, it is common to see solutions that aim to recreate the museum visit in VR. Yawn. Imagine visiting ancient Rome and conversing with an ancient Roman citizens, and perhaps visiting the Colosseum together. Nope, instead, all we get to see is a statue, in a hallway, with text on a sign.
I believe that the best inspiration for future AR apps, even for the workplace, should come from VR games and gamification. Such games as RecRoom, Roblox, and others. Here are fantastic examples of how surfaces, objects, buttons, and environments are used to create something that is not possible anywhere else. Another good example is the game Floorplan where the “menu navigation” is in the form of a backpack that you pull out.
But as with all new technologies, there are challenges. One of the biggest is creating a user experience that is both intuitive and engaging. This is especially important for VR and AR, where the quality of the experience directly influences the user’s willingness to continue using the technology and choose it over the old usual way. There are also issues of privacy and security, especially when it comes to collecting and using data from these devices.
Despite these challenges, the potential for VR, AR, and spatial computing is enormous. With the right approach and by taking into account the needs and concerns of users, these technologies can create truly transformative experiences. And perhaps most importantly, they can help us to see and interact with the world in new and exciting ways.
However, we must remember that we should not just fill our augmented reality with “more of the same”. To truly understand the power of VR, AR, and spatial computing, we must be willing to think in new ways, and challenge our preconceived notions. Let’s curiously explore what these technologies can offer.