Virtual Reality Is Dead, Long Live Virtual Reality

More than a few us enjoyed a bit of eye rolling when we first heard about Google Glass. From 'ewww, not fashion' to 'creepy' - with some in media having a field day mocking the 'glassholes' who would dare to wear the device (not my joke).

More than a few us enjoyed a bit of eye rolling when we first heard about Google Glass. From 'ewww, not fashion' to 'creepy' - with some in media having a field day mocking the 'glassholes' who would dare to wear the device (not my joke).

Not surprisingly, given the early bad buzz, Google Glass slipped away. But, then, that's only sort of true...despite the fact that the execution reeked of geek... the idea of an augmented reality was always going to have deep implications for our day-to-day life. And it's looking like this is the year we may finally see a heightened sense of reality manifest itself in a big way.

With the recent consumer electronics show (CES) in Las Vegas, the buzz has reached a crescendo. So let's talk about what it means to you and me...

The first, and most meaningful distinction, is the difference between 'Augmented Reality' (AR) and 'Virtual Reality' (VR). The latter is a full on immersive experience that is a more solitary exploit than 'hey dude look at this...' And realistically, in the shorter term, VR will have the biggest and most immediate implications for gaming and other entertainment such as movies. There is significant competition between Facebook, Microsoft and Google in the VR space, but it is in some ways a bit less broad in application and appeal; with expensive devices that are scantily available.

The bigger and more immediate opportunity is for AR which adds another, sort of sci-fi layer to our daily lives. The applications are endless which is why the market is valued in the billions. And while the reimagined Google Glass is emerging again, there are others such as the Garmin Varia Vision and Microsoft HoloLens firmly in the race. Your handy smart phone can also easily play a part in bringing AR to life; and is most the first port of entry into how you will experience this new technology.

With that, here are a few reasons I'm excited about the expansion of AR into our day-to-day lives:

We may start to reengage with the world again. One of the most disheartening consequences of our one-dimensional, smart-phone life, is that we don't look up anymore. We don't see the pretty sunset while on a bus or the curiously dressed individual walking down the street (I long ago saw the incredibly flamboyant artist Andy Warhol crossing in front of a bus I was on in New York City...totally wouldn't have happened today with my smart phone in hand). Since AR 'layers on' detail, it will help us get more information about what we see. For instance, check out the Microsoft HoloLens site to see how it could help you fix a sink with Dad from miles away over your shoulder. Companies like Blippar are working hard to give additional context to what you are looking at around you in the real world...a plant, a painting, the sky.

We'll learn faster. If you are able to quickly layer on additional detail about something you are looking at, you might start looking harder and learning more. The opportunity for teaching children is fantastic. Imagine walking through a zoo and using your smart phone to hover in front of an animal to immediately get all of the information about country of origin, favourite food and how likely it is to eat you!

There won't be high street vs. online but a more holistic shopping experience. We now shop online....hurrah! It's easy, fun, efficient and it didn't kill the High Street! But there is so much more opportunity to merge the two worlds really. Imagine trying on clothes via a perfect 3D avatar beamed on mobile or externally rather than ordering three sizes and sending two back. With 3D 'virtual try on technology,' such as Belcurves, you can see a 3D version of your shape wearing the clothes with perfect draping and movement...zoom in and around and decide if it's the right fit for you. While in store, you can do the same; or hover your phone over a product to see what it looks like with the skirt you have at home using visual recognition technology such as via the WantList app. Now here, to be honest, is where the immersive experience of VR can be quite exciting (and who cares that it's solitary)!...Imagine walking through a store, checking out clothing and trying everything on...alone in the store...but without leaving the couch. It's coming via companies like Trillenium.

Health and fitness comes to life. You open your fridge, and see all the calorie counts of what is in there. You take out a block of cheese and your Google Glass shows you a line where to cut to make sure you don't eat more than 200 calories. A hologram of your yoga teacher appears in your living room to teach class (yes, yes, the future is now). You'll certainly work a bit harder if your trainer is virtually in front of you at home.

These are just a small sampling and it's a topic I'm excited to explore more in the coming months. If we can reengage with our world and appreciate what's around us versus what's just on the screen...we'll have certainly made some real progress... and technology will start enhancing rather than competing with real life.


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