Virtual reality promises to be a mega-trend that upends how we use computers and just plain get along. So why’s it such a snooze at the world’s biggest tech expo?
Call it a virtual disappointment. Or virtually unsurprising. I’ll just say I was virtually underwhelmed.
Whatever pun you choose, the virtual reality industry has some explaining to do after this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, during which the biggest product announcements can largely be categorized as “more of the same.”
Consider computer maker Lenovo, which showed off a VR headset whose primary selling point is that it’s cheaper than competitors like the $599 Oculus Rift from Facebook or the $799 HTC Vive — though Lenovo isn’t discussing prices yet and the prototype on display doesn’t actually work.
There’s also Osterhout Design Group, which showed a new pair of smart glasses, powered by Google’s Android phone software and using the newest chips from Qualcomm. The glasses were supposed to be the latest entrant in the world of AR, or augmented reality, layering computer images on the real world you’re looking at. (Think Pokemon Go.) But you’d be forgiven if you confused them with last year’s model, though they promise better performance and visuals. It’ll launch by midyear, costing as much as $1,500.
Even Intel, the world’s largest chipmaker, which is developing its own VR headset, gave a presentation using nearly year-old devices from Facebook’s Oculus.
If you relied on CES to show you the latest in technology, VR was pretty much a no-show.
“It is concerning that people haven’t invented as much cool things to do with VR,” said Gartner analyst Brian Blau, on the sidelines of CES next to people checking out gadgets like smart locks with fingerprint sensors and this year’s reimagining of the multifunction remote control, which looked suspiciously similar to last year’s version.
Ian Paul, chief information officer for adult entertainment company Naughty America, said he’s concerned that there doesn’t seem to be a serious effort from content creators, aside from his competitors and the video game industry. As a result, it’s hard to find compelling content, which he said often leads people to find more and more. “You don’t have a rabbit hole experience in VR,” he said.
But he’s not concerned that there’s comparably little energy being put toward VR hardware products at this year’s show. Blau echoed that sentiment, adding that investment in hardware will likely happen over time. “There may not be an iPhone-like aha moment for VR,” he said.
Part of the reason is that after years of gee-whiz futuristic demos, people’s expectations have become unrealistic, said Lisa Zhao, co-founder of Chinese motion sensor startup LYRobotix. “Average users, they want the perfect glasses now,” she said. “That’s not how technology advances.”
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