Tech Cynic: VR, the never-popular technology
Software & Web Development

Tech Cynic: VR, the never-popular technology

In the distant past I (barely) earned myself a degree in physics with astrophysics. Back then, affordable nuclear fusion reactors were 'just around the corner.' 25 years later, that's where they remain. The same could be said of virtual reality, which has always held out the promise that it would be great… next year. I first tested a virtual reality headset in 1996. It was crap.

Things have changed, apparently. Despite the likes of Magic Leap being dogged by what can politely be called issues about the progress of the underlying technology, surely we're now almost around that corner. We're nearly there now, right? Gigantic posters for the Oculus headset festoon city-centre buildings. The future's bright; the future's virtual. Or is it?

Decades of design and development issues mask a more fundamental problem with VR, which is that nobody wants VR headsets. OK, "nobody" is an exaggeration. Such headsets do have their uses, particularly in industry. I recently watched a woman don a VR headset in order to view a 3D model of an industrial building. She obviously felt very self-conscious about the experience and handled the headset as though it were something her cat had dragged in, but it served its purpose. VR also has value in drone operation, whether for cleaning up nuclear spills or blowing up foreigners.

Yet a wider clamour for such devices is conspicuous by its absence. Gaming fans might be keen on trying out the Oculus product - albeit significantly fewer of them since Facebook bought the company - but outside of that demographic, VR is less a must-have, more a don't-care.

In this respect, VR follows the well-worn path of other immersive technologies, going right back to red and blue/green 3D glasses that allowed people in the 1970s to watch TV with extra realism and headaches.

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Alex Cruickshank

Alex Cruickshank has been writing about technology and business since 1994. He has lived in various far-flung places around the world and is now based in Berlin.  

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