An Immersive Experience that doesn’t suck

By Martin Recke

When Apple released its ARKit this year, it was clearly a milestone for the mass-market adoption of virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality technologies. While the difference between these, especially between AR and mixed reality, is still a bit confusing, it may help to shift perspective to the user’s point of view and talk about immersive experience instead. Gartner has named immersive experience one of their top 10 strategic technology trends for 2018.

For quite a while now, users of digital technology interacted with visible hardware objects, and the long-term trend clearly goes towards simplification and ease of use. With VR/AR/MR, hardware becomes almost invisible, at least with regard to the user experience. Of course, the user still needs some gear, but the experience gets one step closer to the point where the hardware is no longer part of it. Quoting my past self from 2013:

Two decades after Marc Andreessen released Mosaic 1.0, we are quickly moving away from a web- and desktop-centric universe that was dominant for most of the last twenty years. We are entering a post-digital era where digital technology is so omnipresent that it is almost indiscernible from the non-digital world. It’s more than mobile. It’s everywhere.

Virtual reality may even become bigger than reality itself. Besides sight, sound, and haptic feedback, VR will also deliver smell. The Vocktail (aka Virtual Cocktail) already simulates multisensory flavor experiences today. A London hotel bar just launched an immersive experience with 360-degree film along with sounds and molecular scents to enhance their cocktails. And the National Geographic Channel just sent a VR camera into space.

To enter our new, shiny virtual reality world of immersive experiences, three steps are needed: hardware first, then games and last, but not least, Hollywood. VR gear is still some steps away from mass adoption. For the gaming industry (not to mention porn), VR technology is just another new platform that will fuel a new wave of growth. And finally, the big Hollywood players will get on board, producing cinematic VR content. Storytelling will be as important as it always was, but has to be figured out for the new new medium.

Besides the entertainment industry, VR will probably change the workplace and could drive the next industrial robotic revolution as well. But designers should be careful not to create a VR dystopia, Alysha Naples recently warned:

Data and algorithm cannot replace facts and ethics. Empathy is a conscious choice. [...] Consider safety, protecting emotions and privacy when you design for VR and AR. Or else technology without ethics will lead us to dystopia.

Done wrong, VR can suck as well.

Photo by Cyrus Lopes on Unsplash