Facebook just announced the most compelling Oculus yet.
VR has had an adoption problem despite billions of dollars spent on development. The initial offerings from Oculus (Rift) and HTC (Viiv) were pricey, ultimately requiring a $500-plus headset and a multi-thousand-dollar PC. In early 2018, Oculus released the Go, a $199 self-contained headset that, while promising in both performance and price, lacked the six-degree-of-freedom head tracking or hand tracking/control of its bigger sibling. Some critics who applauded the price-to-performance ratio thought the technology compromises made to reach that price point too greatly compromised the experience.
Ultimately, while the Go sold relatively well, in terms of the VR market, it still failed to ignite the mass consumer marketplace, and it did so within a total market that was facing progressive year-on-year decline. In fact, Gartner’s 2018 hype cycle evaluation leaves VR off entirely, replacing it with mixed reality (MR) and augmented reality (AR).
On September 26th, 2018, Facebook announced something squarely in between—the Oculus Quest. It’s a $399 self-contained VR headset delivering six-degrees-of-freedom motion tracking and graphics rivaling (but not quite reaching) the tethered PC quality of its flagship, Rift. Unquestionably, this is the most compelling mass market iteration of the experience to date.
It’s a major improvement. But will it be enough?
The Quest will not be released to the public until spring of 2019, so it’s tough to know for sure if it will be enough to jumpstart the VR market. Full disclosure, we will certainly purchase one at Magnani, just as we have previously purchased the Rift and the Go. But one shouldn’t assume purchase is a vote of confidence.
Technology can’t solve an existential problem.
In our estimation, VR has proven itself an incredible technology in search of a desirable purpose. There appears to be no killer app for VR that makes it a must-have experience for most people. There has been no game or simulation released to date that compels people to habitually return to their headsets.
It was just about a year ago that we first posted our ongoing concerns about VR adoption rates, the resulting chicken-and-egg content problem, and the ultimate long-term viability of VR. And while we are excited to test out the latest Oculus progeny, despite the growing catalog of software titles within the ecosystem, we will not be surprised if, after initial testing, our matte black Quest subsequently gathers dust beside its brethren.
It may be an attention issue in the end.
It’s not the fault of the hardware companies. And it may not be a fault of the software providers. There may ultimately be a fundamental mismatch between the imposed focus of VR experiences demand and the dopamine rich multitasking lifestyles we’ve all adopted in the smartphone era. With virtually every other form of entertainment, we’ve adopted a distracted, phone-in-hand duality to our focus. VR, by nature precludes that interaction, and consequently the dopamine reward cycle that behavior provides. MR and AR, by contrast, feeds into this sensorial overload. Perhaps, until we can bring the VR equivalent of cell phone notifications into VR, the opportunity costs for our ADHD selves will leave us all ambivalent with VR.
Great problems to have.
As experience design professionals, we should all be thankful these technologies march onward. Whether VR eventually finds its market niche in its current form, or it evolves to create something entirely different, the technology presents opportunities to express ourselves, tell our stories and connect on a human level. Flaws and all.