Virtual Reality (VR) is one of those technologies that has been around for years. I can remember playing VR games in arcades back in the 1990s, although the clunky graphics look ridiculous now.
VR has never really taken off as a mainstream technology though. Even though companies like Facebook have been investing in VR and their Oculus products look incredible, it's not something you see very often. However, I believe that VR is about to go mainstream thanks to the launch of two new gaming devices.
This month sees the launch of the latest version of the Sony Playstation - the PSVR. As the name suggests, it comes equipped for VR. When Microsoft launch their new Xbox early in 2017 it will also be ready to support VR. Initially the VR functionality on these consoles will be used for games, but eventually I believe that companies will take advantage of the fact that millions of homes have the ability to support VR.
Estimates suggest that by the end of 2017 there might be over 50 million units sold, counting both the Sony and Microsoft devices. That's a complete change from today where virtually no homes are ready to support a VR environment, so a year from now we will be in a different world entirely for virtual systems.
Think what that means when you are trying to book a vacation? Does the resort offer you the ability to make a virtual visit in advance of booking? How about if you are thinking of getting a new car? Would the ability to take a virtual test drive help you choose a model? What about if you are thinking of changing your kitchen? If a store allows you to see how your house could look after the work is complete then would that help to persuade you?
The potential for brands to use VR in this way is endless and just depends on there being enough VR-enabled homes to make it worth investing in this type of marketing and customer service. We know that's finally about to happen.
In many ways people are already using many social and Voice over IP (VoIP) solutions in a way that is similar to VR, just without the fully immersive visual experience:
- Co-workers in different locations leaving Skype on all day so they can talk and interact as if they are sitting next to each other. No need to call, you just speak.
- Friends in different countries watching the same football match on TV with WhatsApp on their phone so they can enjoy a beer and conversation while watching the game - experiencing the game at the same time even if they are not together.
- A couple enjoying a dinner date, although they are both alone at restaurants in different countries.
I have heard of, or seen, people doing all the above. Although the examples might sound odd, how many times have you sat alone in a bar or restaurant (often when travelling on business) and engaged more with friends via your phone than the people physically nearby?
People are already comfortable about engaging virtually. We are never really alone. When people get the tools to take it to a new level of immersion they are going to grab them and start expecting a virtual experience from brands that haven't even thought about VR yet. Big brands are going to be caught out in the same way they were when customers were not being answered on Twitter or Facebook in 2009. You have a chance to start thinking about this and planning a response. Will you?