Virtual reality (VR) is set to start moving into the mainstream of the technology market this year, creating the next wave of growth for the industry and delivering exciting new experiences for end-users.
That’s according to Ernst Wittmann, Regional Manager for Southern Africa at Alcatel, who says that smartphone manufacturers rather than games console makers or VR specialists hold the key to mainstream consumer acceptance of VR devices. “Smartphone manufacturers will unlock affordable VR for the average consumer,” he adds. “In much the same way as smartphones have put an affordable camera, GPS and powerful computer in our pockets, they will give most of us our first taste of VR.”
According to market researcher IDC, shipments of augmented reality and VR hardware will grow sharply to 9.6 million units this year and to 110 million units by 2020. “The VR category has been relatively small until now, but the technology is maturing,” says Wittman. “We’re starting to see excitement for its potential from businesses and consumers alike.”
Premium VR devices will represent most VR revenue in the next few years but only a small portion of the shipments, according to numbers from Strategy Analytics. The research firm projects that more affordable smartphone-powered devices will account for some 87% of VR devices shipped this year.
“This makes sense since the premium devices are aimed at an early adopter audience, primarily the gamer, that doesn’t mind spending at least $500 on a new gadget,” says Wittman. “Smartphone manufacturers will offer a lower entry price and tie their VR offerings to a device that their customers already own.”
VR is a computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional image or environment, presented to the user on a screen housed in a helmet or a pair of goggles. The user feels as if he or she is present in a three-dimensional space, able to interact with the virtual world through equipment such as a glove fitted with sensors.
The initial application for VR is creating immersive videogames, where the user feels as he or she really is sitting in the cockpit of a race car, navigating a dungeon filled with monsters, or trying to survive a night in a haunted house. But there are endless other business and entertainment applications for VR as well, says Wittman.
For example, some hospitals already use VR to simulate surgery after getting a 3D image of the brain using an MRI scan. Training applications are also becoming more sophisticated, offering risk-free ways to help people to practice or learn skills as diverse as surgery, flying an airplane, or surviving in a combat zone.
Art students or tourists could wander simulations of the world’s great art galleries without leaving home, offering new experiences to people who cannot travel for financial or health reasons, says Wittmann. And films and televised sports events could be made more immersive by making you feel like you’re in a theatre or a stadium rather than your lounge.
Says Wittmann: “For many people, VR still sounds like a fanciful idea. But as smartphones become more powerful and the VR display technologies become cheaper and more mature, VR will become a fixture in our lives.
”Many analysts believe that VR is in its growth cycle today where smartphones were in 2007 – so we can expect to see VR really take off by 2020. The technology has great potential to enrich our lives, create new ways to learn, offer exciting entertainment options, and deliver powerful new experiences.”
By Ernst Wittmann, Regional Manager for Southern Africa at Alcatel