Today I had the fantastic opportunity to try out a virtual reality headset at the TTI Spring Conference, displaying some Thomas Cook content about hotels in Cyprus. The apparatus itself consists of a smartphone with an app that displays slightly different images on the left and right sides of the screen, then the headset is just a physical device that separates the two sides of the screen so each eye only sees one side. The content itself is filmed with a sort of ball of 7 GoPro cameras. The images get stitched together to make a 360 degree video.
I found it quite absorbing – although the resolution is limited by that of the smartphone screen, the depth and responsiveness of the video as you physically move your head around, and the accompanying sound made it easy to get lost in the experience and forget where you really are. It was a novel experience, but after about 3 minutes I had had enough to be honest. I am not sure if this reaction was a result of the technology or the content itself. As a reformed Cyprus product manager, maybe its just that my appetite for the 3* accommodations of Protaras is somewhat exhausted.
What I do find interesting about emerging technologies is that it is often the technological innovation that comes first, then it takes some time for us to realise what it’s for and why we need it. Or in other words, once the technology becomes available, there is further innovation in terms of software and application of the tech which brings it into relevance for our lives. For example the physical tablet device would be a pretty hopeless piece of technology if it was running one of the desktop operating systems that was around at the time they came out. It is the highly intuitive UX and simplified software that made the touch-screen work for us and opened up a new world of large format swiping and slinging small birds at green helmet-wearing pigs.
It is, of course, fantastic that innovation constantly pushes the boundaries. And we know that for every game-changer like home broadband, video and audio streaming, ebay, social media, Uber, AirBnB etc, there are hundreds of concepts that fall by the wayside. I am certainly open-minded about new technologies and in some cases an early adopter, but I am also the first to admit that I have completely misjudged the potential of some technologies in the past that have turned out to have a huge impact.
The predication made today by the 3D content company who was demonstrating the technology (www.visualise.com) was that in 10 years’ time there would be a virtual reality headset in every home and it would be a significant sales channel for travel bookings. My problem with this is that people have been telling me that VR is the future since I was a child in the 1980s. In the last 30 years the quality of the graphics and the size of the headset have undoubtedly improved, but the sales pitch is essentially the same. Unfortunately, outside of gaming I cannot see a meaningful application of the technology beyond the novelty factor. That said, I look forward to coming back to this post in 10 years’ time and laughing at how short-sighted I was!