Navigating The Trough of Disillusionment
2016 was a big year for Virtual and Augmented Reality. The world saw the first high-end, commercially-available VR systems, the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, and Samsung shipped over 5 million Gear VR headsets, powered by its smartphones. Investor and enterprise excitement prompted multiple Wall Street firms to publish hundred page reports on the future of the industry, and Palmer Luckey, CEO of Oculus, ended up on the cover of Time magazine.
In the classic technology hype cycle, 2016 was likely the ‘Peak of Inflated Expectations’ for Immersive Media (the combination of VR and AR). The 2016 euphoria has now been followed by a 2017 filled with reality-checks for the industry, a period much more akin to the classic ‘Trough of Disillusionment’.
This pattern is not unexpected. We at The Glimpse Group are very optimistic about the future of Immersive Media: we believe that Virtual and Augmented Reality will transform practically every aspect of daily life over the next two decades. However, consumer and enterprise adoption is clearly early-stage, and there will inevitably be periods of popular impatience. In truth, we welcome a tempering of near-term expectations. To paraphrase Warren Buffett, we like to be greedy when others are fearful. While it is challenging to navigate the early stages of an adoption cycle (one only needs to look at Altspace’s recent challenges), we believe there are clear advantages to be gained from establishing an early position in a transformative industry, building strong market positions and brands while acquiring talent and IP ahead of mass adoption.
A core tenet of The Glimpse Group philosophy is that our businesses must have realistic plans for attaining profitability given the current state of VR and AR hardware (while maintaining the flexibility to adapt as the technology evolves). Building businesses on the current VR/AR installed base is challenging, but we believe there are profitable opportunities to be had, even at this early stage.
On the Augmented Reality side, current consumer-related applications need to focus on smartphones and tablets, as there are no commercially available consumer AR glasses. Thus, use-cases have to be compelling enough to incentivize users to pull out their phones to view AR graphics or to compel enterprises to have tablets on site for customer use. Three of our subsidiary companies have honed in on these types of applications. KabaQ, an AR food solution company, is bringing augmented reality menus to restaurants so that patrons can see their choices in incredibly realistic 3D detail before ordering; Kreatar, an AR content creation platform, is bringing customizable AR greeting cards to consumers, just in time for the holiday season; and LocateAR, an AR geo-location service, is giving businesses the ability to place personalized augmented reality graphical experiences in front of their storefronts. We believe each of these use cases can yield a profitable AR business.
On the Virtual Reality side, given the limited state of current consumer adoption (only around one million high-end headsets), we are focused on enterprises: helping enterprises adopt VR technology for productivity enhancing applications, and also allowing companies to bring VR to consumers. Glimpse Consulting is currently working with several major organizations on VR initiatives, particular on training applications, but also other specific use cases such as real estate and employee health. Another Glimpse subsidiary, In-It VR, is working with brands to bring VR marketing experiences to consumers via pop-up displays in physical stores and at expos. Studies have found that these types of VR branding experiences are multiple times more impactful than those experienced through traditional media channels. The Glimpse Group has also recently launched an additional enterprise-focused subsidiary, MarketView VR, that will provide a VR platform in which financial professionals can process and analyze data in 3D space while virtually collaborating with colleagues.
While 2017 has been difficult for the Immersive Media industry, we remain undaunted and enthusiastic. The future is certainly bright: we believe that VR and AR are the next major step in the evolution of computing, a ‘once in a generation’ change in the technological landscape. We are also optimistic on the present. We see specific profitable use cases in both AR and VR for enterprises and consumers, even at this early stage in the adoption cycle. We believe we can create successful businesses with current hardware, building strong market positions from which to ride the advance of Immersive Media towards mass adoption.