3 things to sort out before VR goes mainstream

The birth of a new industry is always messy, but it's not that hard to figure out the questions we need to find the answers to in the next 1-2 years.

They are possibly not the ones you might first think of.

Sure there are interesting developments the whole VR scene is excited about. Take Project Tango, solving the problem of mobile positional tracking (i.e., walking around in virtual space without a cord). Or spatial audio, to hear the zombies groaning right behind you. Or the unbelievable Entrim headphones by Samsung stimulating your inner ear to give you a sense of motion speed and direction.

These are all incredible (especially the last one), but they don't solve the original problem: how can we make sure people actually want to experience virtual reality. It's very easy to forget about this fundamental question if you are a person who lives and breathes VR, and gets excited about every new development. But this won't make VR break into the mainstream, as adding these features is more evolutionary than revolutionary. The very first iPhone (back in 2007) didn't even have 3G, and it was flying off the shelves - because everybody was completely sold on the concept.

This is VR's 2007 moment, and we need to work on the basics first. As usually on this page, this post is not about gamers, or the hardcore VR community. We want to explore how VR can go really mainstream.

In VR content is more important than ever

We don't have enough content today, and even worse, what we have is not engaging enough.

Most of the games, especially on the Cardboard and the Gear VR, are either half-baked betas or they are so short they feel like an intro - and often both are true. We have yet to see a widely released full game that makes you want to come back the next day. This is, of course, a chicken and egg problem. We believe big studios have to take the lead and invest into great VR titles - but that's only half of the story. We need good casual VR games. Social Trivia is a step into the right direction.

We believe educational VR content will be huge, and there are promising sings - but the good apps are few and far between.

The situation is a bit better with 360 videos. YouTube offers many 360 videos. Oculus Video is getting better by the day, and there are a few very promising companies producing or distributing immersive content (Jaunt VR, Vrse, NextVR and Vrideo are our favorites).

The problem is on the creative side, and FOX Sports is a great example. It's simply not that engaging to watch basketball in 180 degrees, from the side of the half-court line. This is not the fault of FOX or NextVR - it's not a fault of anybody. We are all still learning VR, and if you talk to professional cinematographers, well, even they don't exactly know yet how a good immersive video should look like. There are a few good ones (Vrse videos are brilliant sometimes), but it's going to take some time.

We need better VR content distribution

This is painfully clear for everyone who ever tried virtual reality in any form. You are sitting in a chair with a Gear VR on your head, you click on a movie, and often you have to wait way too long to start watching it.

Sure, 360 videos can generate an insane amount of Internet traffic, and streaming VR is not comparable to streaming cat videos on YouTube. The problem is that you are cut off from the outside world. If you have to want a few seconds for a video to start on your desktop (which almost never happens) - so what? You can check your Facebook in that time. In VR every second you have to wait feels like three.

Facebook is working on an optimized 360 video streaming protocol, and we badly need it.

The other problem with content distribution is specifically affecting Cardboard. It's an experimental platform, and it lacks a central hub like the Oculus Home on the Gear VR. In order to perform simple actions like installing an app, or switching between different apps, you need to take your phone out of the box. This makes it inconvenient to use for normal people.

We need to figure out the UX

People (again, normal people) need to navigate with ease. There are virtual reality UX / UI patterns emerging but they are by far not universally used, or universally agreed upon.

We all imagined VR (and AR) interfaces like the ones you see in the movie Minority Report. In reality, we need to solve problems like how a button should look like and function.

There are many exciting projects from Leap Motion's wrist interface to full body tracking. The bottom line: we have to create a common language so users would never have to think twice how they can move around and interact with objects in a virtual space.