… And BEAR’s prize for the Most Improbably Named Launch Product of All Time 2016 goes to (you guessed it): the Oculus Rift!
Quite how it took everyone else so long, and Long Beach resident Palmer Luckey, so short a time to get what is essentially a 30-year-old idea fast-tracked into development, then sold for an unfeasibly large amount of money to Facebook for release this year, is anybody’s guess.
From here it just looks like the world just plain old forgot about Virtual Reality. Whilst the Earth’s tech giants bickered over slightly larger smart phones and consumers chased slightly Angrier Birds, the 22 year old was developing what is potentially the most important home media device since the television set in his garage with hot glue and a soldering iron.
There has been a lot already written about what the Oculus Rift is – sadly not enough about its name – but whilst its history and isolationist qualities deeply root it in the gaming industry, reductions in form and weight will see its adoption bleed well into other applications and public spaces. Make no mistake, the familiar sight of people staring into their phones and iPads on the train to work will become a scene of headset-wearing commuters as technologies like the OR and Microsoft’s HoloLens start to merge. Games and interactive films are the obvious first step in terms of consumable media and no doubt we will be exposed to a whole new way of experiencing auteur-based immersive narrative. But the OR’s new blue owners don’t make films or games; they simply exist on the internet and on your mobile. For them and their investment, it’s all about social, creating spaces and experiences that bring people together and allow them to interact. For brand marketeers it’s a wet dream – a potentially truly captive audience, a screen that your audience cannot turn away – or indeed avert their gaze – from.
Just as brands jumped on post-digital phenomena like flash mobs and happenings, and attempted to one up each other with a crazier stunt than the last, they will now be able to provide their customers with increasingly extreme experiences, the content of which will only be limited by their creators’ imaginations. Photorealistic flash mob dance-off on the Death Star with you the user at the centre of the action? No problem. Want to go for a Tesla Motors test drive on the surface of Mars with Elon Musk? Why not. Furthermore, these new realities will be tailored to individual users or whole groups, with unique personal experiences or simultaneously experienced events as bizarre or prosaic as their architect’s imaginations.
No doubt reality will fight back – as drones become even more commonplace we’ll all be able to effectively become ‘floating heads’ as products like OR hook into them. Imagine watching a live football match from a floating viewpoint – your miniaturised user-controlled camera darting between the players then soaring over the crowd in one continuous movement.
Of course it’s not just entertainment that the OR will change. Advertising, architecture, communication, education, exercise, even sex(!). A dreary treadmill run in the gym in Acton could be made significantly better by letting us change our location to Central Park. Investment banks are building apps that let investors fly around their stocks and shares, the bar graphs of yore now characterfully represented by glittering skyscrapers. The internet could effectively become divided into two different places: one purely informational, the other richly experiential.
For the end user, it simply means more competition and more choice. For brands this means an even harder fight to keep our attention. No longer buffeted by the last decade’s reliance on surface glitz and bad CGI, audiences will demand and indeed expect deeper, more unique and more meaningful experiences.
The future is coming. And it’s strapped to your face.