13th October 2017

The reality of VR and AR

Andrew Larking
Creative Director
VR headset

Earlier this week we held our quarterly drinks evening, just around the corner from our London office in King's Cross.

We always enjoy the event as an opportunity to catch up with friends and clients – past, present and future – in a relaxed setting to chat about what the future of work looks like, digitally-led transformation, digital delivery, and emerging technologies.

To bring the latter point to life, we decided to bring along our state of the art VR kit for guests to play with. It was an entertaining evening – both for the individual immersed in a virtual world inside their headset, and for anyone observing them in the real world!

But this is more than just fun.

In a recent post I made an impassioned case for virtual and augmented reality, with some bold claims that the disruption we’ve seen from mobile devices will be dwarfed by VR and AR platforms.

Since writing that post Deeson has invested substantial time in studying these technologies – playing with them, designing for them, building for them, and testing development processes suitable for all of the platforms.

We consider virtual reality and augmented reality to be some of the most interesting and disruptive technologies we are going to see over the next ten to fifteen years. This is particularly the case when coupling them with conversational interfaces and machine learning.

Whether you’re a business leader, look after a brand, or are just excited about the possibilities, here is our list of key things to know about augmented and virtual reality.

Believe the hype.

While the early mobile revolution had obvious applications for business users, AR and VR has been targeted at gamers and researchers. Many business leaders are only now just hearing about these technologies, even though they’ve been around since the 60s. But just because they aren’t aimed at people who need to spreadsheet on the move don’t think they aren’t about to disrupt everything you know. They deserve to be taken seriously. 

AR and VR is set to be worth up to $122 billion by 2021, but even that estimate already looks woefully small. Major tech companies worldwide are investing heavily in both AR and VR, competing with each other for the best tools and by extension biggest share of the market. 

While we ride this multi billion dollar wave and see the benefits to AR and VR improve by the week, the improvements in older technologies (laptops, phones, tablets) continue to disappoint. And when new stuff does pique our interest (new iPhone, new Google Pixel) the only substantial changes to these devices is the adoption of AR and VR capability. These technologies are sticking around.

Know your platforms.

While designing responsive websites can be finicky, no agency worth its salt will tell you that it’s hard. A browser is a browser, and outside of some more obscure interactions they all work basically the same way. This is not so with AR or VR.

Every platform is different not only in capability but in how users interact with it. The HTC Vive tracks you around the room and you can use your full body to interact with the experience. The Oculus Rift used to track just your head, but can now track your hands as well – but only for people who bought the upgrade. Phone based experiences track rotational change allowing you to look around, but that’s it. Windows MR tracks “inside out”, meaning it requires certain lighting conditions. PSVR is similar to Oculus, but again only for some users. And it’s all set to change in 2018.

These differences seem small but imagine designing a car for a set of users who may have full body mobility, have no legs, or no arms, or only have movement in their head. It’s truly and deeply challenging, and it means you must design bespoke experiences for each platform, focus on only one platform, or create very generic experiences.

If your business wants to adopt AR or VR you will need a technology partner who understands what is currently possible, what changes are just around the corner, and is able to consult with you over your exact needs.

Know the wider purpose.

An AR or VR experience on its own is fun, but for greater business value it needs to have a wider purpose. Don’t fall into the trap of building something for the sake of it – let’s not repeat the “we need an app” days. 

Before talking to agencies about what VR and AR can do, understand the problem you are hoping to solve. Ensure your marketing, content, IT, and strategy teams are all involved and that sensible KPIs have been agreed, and ways to integrate your new virtual experiences into your wider business systems approved.

VR and AR should be viewed as products, not projects, and they’ll need iteration over time to have any impact beyond a fun but ultimately shallow campaign.

Know your intent.

Like everything else that must be created, defining the design intent at the beginning is crucial. What one thing must this experience achieve? Are you trying to get your next round of startup funding, and VR is part of your sales pitch? If so your approach to design, build, and technology will be different to somebody wanting to get 100,000 people to donate to a Christmas campaign. 

With new technologies it’s easy to fall into the trap of designing around the capabilities of the device. Instead, define the business need, agree the audiences, agree upon the intent, and then choose the best technology to fit.

Augmented and virtual reality are here to stay, and at some point in the near future I guarantee you'll be thinking about their applications within your own organisation.

If you’d like to talk about what these technologies can do and how it's going to impact you, get in touch, and sign up to hear about future events from Deeson.