2016 was “Year Zero” for the current wave of consumerization of virtual reality and augmented reality, devices are finally shipping, consumers are buying, and applications are earning. Consider what “Year Zero” was for the PC or the mobile waves of technology adoption, and look at where we are today. 2017 is shaping up to be an early and fantastically productive year for the virtual reality & augmented reality industries.
Having spent the better part of 2016 diving into the VR & AR industry, here is list of six predictions and four “wishes” for 2017:
#1: Apple enters the augmented reality game through the iPhone 8 camera
Of the tech majors who are openly investing billions into VR & AR initiatives, Apple is strikingly missing from that list. While Cupertino’s infamous “cone of silence” is typically quite effective, its M&A and hiring strategies paint a picture of deep exploration in virtual and augmented reality through acquisitions such as Primesense, Metaio, Flyby Media, and key hires from the Microsoft HoloLens, Oculus, and Magic Leap teams. With the unveiling of iPhone 8, the 10th anniversary iPhone, many are predicting a stark change in form factor, and while a head worn display is possible, the phone camera is the obvious and most accessible AR device for consumers today.
#2: Snap unveils roadmap to augmented reality platform, a natural extension of Spectacles
2017 will be a big year for Snap Inc., coming off a buzzy release of its connected sunglass camera product, Spectacles, and preparing for the potentially the largest tech IPO since Facebook. With Spectacles, not only has Snap has made it “cool” with the millennials-set to wear a battery and camera on your face, but the company has invented a novel and very natural way to keep this battery-laden device juiced up — via the charging case. While today, Spectacles are primarily content capture devices, a believable next step for a future Spectacles product is to enable display of information within the lenses, to the wearer, such as time, walking directions, recent text messages, or next appointment. Google Glass is rolling over in its deep grave.
#3: HTC Vive announces “standalone” Virtual Reality headset, like Oculus Santa Cruz
HTC Vive, the currently leader in room scale Virtual Reality, will announce a “standalone” VR headset. The Vive is the industry leader in terms of quality of experience and depth of “immersion” in VR, thanks to its sophisticated infrared light tracking hardware setup. However, the curse is that it must be tethered and powered by a high-end gaming PC with a top of the line GPU hardware, which can be very expensive. Don’t forget that HTC’s primary area of expertise is that of a manufacturer of high-end mobile phone devices, including the Google Pixel. So, expect HTC to announce a standalone VR device, with the compute and graphics power onboard, which will enable high quality mobile VR experiences to consumers at a far more approachable form factor and price.
#4: Facebook takes a bigger focus in Virtual Reality, Oculus brand steps back
In Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus, it acquired a delivery mechanism. After two years of product development on hardware and software, Facebook reached a high point of quality for both consumers and developers, and it did so in a relative “walled garden” of early adopters who are excited by and loyal to the Oculus brand. In 2017, expect Facebook to start introducing VR experiences directly to its 1.79 billion monthly active users under its own, more familiar, flag.
#5: Removing the tether…the dawn of wireless head mounted displays
For those who have tried a full-featured virtual reality rig like Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, the experience is often “out of this world,” but there’s a common annoyance caused by the “tether,” that hangs down the back of the head-mounted display (HMD) connecting it to the PC. While annoying to the user, this cord carries important low-latency, high speed graphics to the HMD ensuring a quality experience and minimizing potential of nausea. With advances in near-field Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity, expect to see a number of branded and manufactured wireless headsets or attachments come to market to solve this tangled problem.
#6: WebVR takes center stage as bridges are built between fully immersive VR and mobile