Wireless Technologies

Wearable Tech Show: VR & AR still stuck in the era of 90s parables

Virtual Reality has been around in some form or another for at least three decades now. Augmented and Mixed Reality might be newer technologies, but represent another side of the same coin. But are we still really in the ‘Wild West’/’90s Web’/ ‘Nokia 3310 era’/pick your early days’ metaphor of this stuff?

“2016 was meant to be the year of AR broke through into the mainstream,” said Steve Dann, CEO of Amplified Robot while speaking at this year’s Wearable Tech Show in London, but he acknowledged that it wasn’t, and realistically it could best be described as “the year it broke through into mainstream consciousness”.

There’s a fair assessment; cheap Google Cardboard like headsets are now commodities handed out like candy at events and in packaging, while bigger premium headsets such as Google’s Daydream or Samsung’s Gear headset offer slightly better (if less accessible for all) experiences that only require a phone.

But while most people might be aware they can go all VR, it’s hard to say that people are. It’s still a novelty, something that companies like to wheel out for nice branding experiences. No one is seriously thinking VR is essential to their everyday life. The analogy used might change, but when can we stop saying we’re still in the nascent days of these technologies?

Greg Ivanov, Business Head for Google Daydream, likened VR today to the web in the 90s: “clunky, not particularly fast, cumbersome, but kind of amazing at the same time because you could do things you couldn't do before.”

“We're in the very, very early stages, and in 5-10 years we'll look back and [today’s VR] will seem like this [the 90’s web].”

While the metaphor might be apt, we’ve heard similar rhetoric every year the WTS has been on in London: endless talk about potential and early days, but very little on fulfilling destinies. AR headsets are still nowhere near outselling smartphones, VR hasn’t become the default way we make or consume content, and nothing has appeared since the failure of Google Glass to take head-worn tech into the mainstream.

Aside from the fact a lot of the tech on show was uninspiring, the speakers doled out the usual soundbites found when talking about wearables:

  • VR is the “next mass medium”
  • The enterprise is the main area these technologies are – and will continue – to gain the most traction in, purely because they offer cost savings in various ways
  • There’s still a chronic lack of VR & AR content, and simply porting experiences from a flat screen onto a 3D interface isn’t good enough
  • Hearables are going to be massive (although Amazon’s name as a potential player in this space was a new line)

Was there anything new? There were less fully digital smartwatches, more NFC rings, still a few Google Glass-like vendors around, plus all kids of fitness trackers. So, in a word, no.


Also read:
Wearable Tech Show 2015: Optimism, gadgets and potential
Wearable Tech Show 2016: Wearables get a reality check?
Wearable Tech Show: Augmented optimism?
Augmented Reality: Consumers, gorillas and unicorns


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Dan Swinhoe

Dan is a journalist at CSO Online. Previously he was Senior Staff Writer at IDG Connect.

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