Virtual and Augmented Reality: Just a Tech Dream or a Sleeping Giant About to Awaken?

When ReportLinker first published stories on surveys conducted about Virtual Reality (VR) technology, which is accompanied by Augmented Reality (AR) tech in most discussions, the tone was positive and upbeat.

VR, which was first introduced to the world in the early 1990s, looked like it was about to explode commercially at long last at the beginning of 2017. As that year was drawing to a close, everything still looked like a lush rose garden in the world of VR, foremost for industry leader Samsung.

However…as 2019 is unfolding, the near future for the futuristic tech doesn’t look so pretty. Although North America is the biggest commercial investor in AR and VR (as of the end of 2017), the fact as of now is that the technology just isn’t at the forefront of the everyday American’s mind.

According to the latest ReportLinker survey results, Americans are less familiar with VR now than they were in 2017 or even 2016. with VR technology, while more than one-third surveyed were “very familiar” in 2017. Male respondents (31%) are much more likely to be “very familiar” with VR than are female respondents (16%), which is nothing new. It’s not that Virtual Reality is some big mystery, since for more than half of respondents (56%) the phrase rings a bell. Rather, respondents would have a hard time explaining it to relatives or friends who are in the dark about it. However, respondents today are more likely to possess only this vague comprehension of VR compared to those from just two or three years ago.

The technology’s prestige has fallen off so much among everyday Americans that when the most recent survey respondents are asked about VR’s leading brands, only 28% of them can name an industry leader without any hints or clues (17% less than in 2017) and only 37% show familiarity when brand names are suggested (23% less than in 2017)). Sony and Oculus are mentioned now off the top of respondents’ heads as leading brands less than one-tenth of the time (8% of mentions for each one). Industry leader Samsung was mentioned without any prompting 20% of the time by survey respondents in 2017. When prompted, recent respondents (2018) bring up Samsung 19% of the time, whereas in 2017 the company came to mind from prompts 28% of the time.

Nevertheless, while VR and AR technology is less immediate in the minds of average American consumers today than it was just a couple of years ago, they tend to remain positive-minded about it: 62% of respondents replied that they have a positive attitude towards Virtual Reality. However, there were 14% fewer “enthusiastic” respondents in the most recent survey than there were in 2017.

At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada, VR and AR technology products did not shine so brightly as they have in the recent past or were anticipated to this year. One CES 2019 attendant, Forrester analyst J.P. Gownder, states that “VR hasn’t escaped the early adopter, gamer-oriented segment.” Gownder himself was an early adopter. Specifically mentioning Samsung’s Gear VR, Gownder states that “a clear reason for the average non-gamer to get involved” in VR technology still hasn’t been presented. By any company. In-attendance Gartner analyst Tuong Nguyen adds that VR “is still is the next big thing, but anything good takes time and effort. The industry as a whole did overhype it.”

The way for VR to make headway into the mainstream the commercial world is still predominantly through gaming. For instance, the closely related AR technology made a huge impression on average consumers (sometimes a negative one) when it was utilised to create the Pokemon Go app, which was all the rage among smartphone users of nearly every age and ethnicity bracket for most of 2017. VR’s huge popularity among the gaming community is the main reason why the technology’s sales are still predicted and expected to grow substantially through 2022, in spite of the recent major drop in sales.

However, not everyone is a serious gamer. So for a lot of technophiles and futurists, including some gamers, VR now seems like it’s merely “a dream gathering dust”.

But one non-gaming area where VR is currently showing major promise is in the world of medicine. Speaking of training brain surgeons using VR, Gary Steinberg, a Stanford Medicine neurosurgeon, says “It’s as if we have been there before, and it’s not a surprise.” Meanwhile, Richard Satava, professor emeritus of surgery at the University of Washington in Seattle, says of utilising VR to teach and grade medical students: “It gives us a way to judge whether [medical students have] learned what they are supposed to learn.” However, VR technology comes with a big price tag. Huge pharmaceutical industry player Johnson & Johnson, a VR enthusiast, spends nearly $10,000 per unit.

The price of VR technology will come down when it becomes more in-demand and its designers and suppliers can afford to charge a lower unit price in exchange for a higher volume of sales. But the question remains figuring out how to make it more widely desired. One of the answers is for the marketing departments of VR makers to come up with advertisements targeting female consumers as most women (89%) said that they have never once tried on a VR headset.