Virtual reality technology’s current capabilities are impressive, but its purposes and use cases are not yet obvious or clearly defined. This was our verdict after attending the Virtual Reality Show in London in April 2017. Whilst the demonstrations on show were very clever, many are not (yet) truly meeting consumer or business needs. This is particularly the case in retail, where the technology has been much lauded but truly helpful use cases are few and far between.
Despite this there are some areas where virtual reality does show promise. The exhibits at the Virtual Reality Show with the clearest business potential were those focusing on manufacturing and training. For example, in the automotive sector, consumers can experience full scale car models in virtual reality, without requiring engineers to provide the actual physical prototype or finished versions of the cars. Virtual reality models also allow designers to make changes to prototypes in the manufacturing phase, without needing to build physical replicas first. Similarly, in the construction sector, engineers can analyse full scale virtual reality models of buildings and infrastructure before they are built. And in healthcare, trainee doctors can simulate medical procedures using a VR headset.
Video games also have a clear use case for virtual reality. The most popular game at the Virtual Reality Show simulated a sky dive, with the gamer strapped into a real harness and suspended off the floor – it was very impressive, with kids as well as adults were eager to give it a go. PC and PlayStation 4 games already allow consumers to immerse themselves in a virtual world, from the comfort of their own home. However, consumer adoption of the technology is believed to still be fairly minimal, due to firstly, the cheapest VR headset still costing at least £300 – and most costing much more – and secondly, not enough big brand games designers committing to designing full length VR games (the popular Resident Evil series is currently the only major brand to convert to VR).
Use cases in retail though are much harder to detect, at least at present. In previous years, some brands have trialed in-store virtual reality offerings, such as Diesel, which last year gave in-store customers a VR headset to explore an outdoor environment, while sitting on fur thrones, to tie in with its winter fur collection. An impressive example of experiential marketing it may be, but such examples are still fairly sporadic and ad hoc on the high street in 2017.
At the Virtual Reality Show, retail use cases were few and far between. One exhibit allowed users to look around a virtual store, pick up products, see their advertising videos and read product descriptions. However on this evidence, virtual reality technology is not yet ready to simulate a virtual store – firstly, text is very difficult to read in a VR headset, making it near impossible to read detailed product descriptions. Secondly, the user experience is currently inconsistent and clunky – it would cause too much frustration, were someone to try using a virtual store instead of a real one, based on the current offerings.
Nevertheless, it’s still early days for virtual reality. There is clear potential for growth and success (particularly for video games), as long as the technology is available at the right price for the consumer, and assuming that enough resource is devoted by brands to improve the user experience.
And what about the world of insight? The potential for virtual reality still remains an exciting possibility within this space. Look out for our next blog post where we share our view on where we think the current use cases for this technology lie within our industry.