While Google took what seemed at the time to be an expensive concept, with the Oculus DK2, the main VR headset on the scene, and made it into a simplified piece of cheap cardboard, that is about as far as Google seems to want to take their journey with VR. Instead Google appears to be focused on Augmented Reality and the strategy and challenges faced with bringing this technology to the consumer market.
In a private conversation between Google CEO Sundar Pichai and VR head Clay Bavor, the pair have agreed that Augmented Reality is going to be much bigger than VR in the long run, and much more profitable. AR involves overlaying digital information next to a person’s actual view of the real world, as opposed to VR that replaces the person’s view entirely and immerses them in a fake reality.
On the converse, Facebook have heavily invested, and will continue investing, in virtual reality following their acquisition of Oculus and the Rift, and so appear to have a completely different view of the future market.
Facebook is predicting a future in which we all live in a simulated virtual reality, interacting through social environments and other mediums, whereas Google is anticipating displaying relevant information in an overlay view for the real physical world to enhance social interaction, providing constant data about the surroundings to compliment it rather than trying to replace it.
AR or VR
Google have a point – can you really see people wear VR headsets out in public? Not to mention the fact all the ‘hardcore’ headsets on the market currently require a tethered connection to either a high-end PC or gaming console, which makes them impossible to transport. Even if the tethered connection was severed, the physical design of a virtual reality headset to achieve the fully immersive experience means that the outside world is completely blocked out – it would be fundamentally unsafe to wear VR out in public, at least with the current generation of VR headsets. Compare this to Google’s first attempt at AR with Google Glass which, although still a socially odd concept, was at least a portable and ergonomic design and seemed relatively normal in public being attached to a glasses frame.
It may not simply be a case of VR or AR, and perhaps the situation could be interpreted as an evolution of each other rather than a replacement. Much of the technology being developed for VR will be relevant in AR and the sensors, displays, and processors in the current generation of headsets will undoubtedly become more advanced in subsequent versions, consequently assisting and accelerating AR development as and when it becomes the next big thing. Google seems to understand this and the search giant look to be moving their strategy to align with this vision.
Where do you see AR or VR? Is there room for both? Does Google’s vision for AR mean we’ll see them put some more effort into developing the next Google Glass? Let us know in the comments section below.