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In September 2019, phone-based virtual reality was declared ‘over’. This comes as Oculus’s chief technology officer, John Carmack, lamented the phone-based headset, while Google announced the discontinuation of their Google Daydream View and the Daydream software, which launched in 2016. The New York Times wrote in April 2020 that it was perplexing how the concept of VR still hadn’t captured our attention as it should have. But is virtual reality for our phones actually over – or do people still want to engage in these ways?

Why Did Google Daydream Fail?

Google’s Daydream failed because it received a lukewarm reception to the concept from consumers, and developers didn’t bother with it either. Usually, Google is at the forefront of tech updates, but not this time. One of the main issues with virtual reality technology for smartphones is that the extra hardware was expensive. It was also cumbersome and, at the time, didn’t allow you to do very much with it. The controls and technology behind it were hardly what people expected from reading about the future. But the absence of flying cars should show that anticipations of the future rarely pan out as expected.
One of the other reasons for the failure of Daydream was the success of Google Cardboard. Launched in 2014. By 2017, the company had shipped 10 million units. More than 160 million apps had been downloaded compatible with the hardware. Some of these shipped units were given away for free, but the downloads prove that the technology was simple enough for people to want to engage with it.
Oculus Rift was predicted to do well when it launched as a headset in 2015 – but cost $599. This price point meant that many who bought it were playing alone and many who might have enjoyed the technology were priced out. The success of a lot of technology is the ability to experience it together and to then share the message with friends who might enjoy it.

Do People Want to Engage Virtually?

Across entertainment, different ways of engaging with our phones have also shown that appetite is there.  Live Casino hosts like Betway show that– from poker to blackjack, baccarat to Deal or No Deal – there is an appetite for people engaging with entertainment that adds something to how we traditionally expect to engage with certain gaming styles. Yet this can be played on mobile without any extra hardware. Moreover, the running app Zombies, Run works as both a pedometer and a game to help us run faster. Occasionally, based on our progress, the game will announce zombies are approaching and that we must run faster.
Moreover, headset-free DinoTrek uses simple gameplay to provide a rousing game of living with dinosaurs. The concept is basic and is more to show off what VR technology can do to provide a deep gaming experience. Elsewhere, the Blippar app recognizes landmarks, faces, and objects around you and then overlays them with virtual content. Plus, the award-winning Guggenheim Museum app allows you to experience the paintings and art of the museum from your phone, showing you virtual tours and giving the same experience as being there.

So, this proves that we do want to engage in different ways with our phones that harness modern technology, just not in the virtual reality that we expected. The above examples all represent a merge between us and our environments and technology, whereas VR is solely throwing us into a virtual world. Perhaps the key to the technology of tomorrow is to keep it grounded in reality.

The Future of Virtual Reality

The BBC announced in late 2019 it would cut funding to its VR hub, only two years after it had been announced, showing that the demand and appetite to engage in these ways had waned. Set up in 2017, the VR hub was there based on the projected demand. Indeed, a market research firm anticipated that there would be 51 million consumer headsets globally by 2023. Yet, compared to the overall smartphone penetration – 7.33 billion by 2023 – this represents an infinitesimal figure, especially considering the expense the industry requires.

A visitor to a London VR arcade suggested in January 2020 that while the technology was amazing, and the gaming experience was moreish, playing VR alone isn’t the same as playing with other people. The arcade-themed games are suitable for VR experiences with friends due to the simplistic gameplay and group activity, but playing alone renders the technology still fairly basic, especially in comparison to the gaming quality that Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo are developing.

But there is a future for VR out there – just not in the all-encompassing smartphone industry. From the medical industry, who will use VR to map out surgeries before they make the first cut, to car manufacturers who will do the same with the vehicle they are building, there will still be uses for VR. Similarly, the mobile entertainment industry will utilize the modern technology that attracts users, but perhaps not expressly using VR. VR may even make more sense and be able to thrive on traditional desktop computers or even laptops.

Virtual reality in general was a firework that never quite popped properly. Anticipated as the next big thing across entertainment, fewer people regularly engage with the technology as they were expected to. Instead, different ways of engaging with games and entertainment, which still represent the future of technology, are preferred.

Ultimately, VR was too big of an investment for consumers for the casual way they enjoy engaging with technology.

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