I firmly believe virtual reality will be the next frontier of computing. But for so many people — especially those who haven’t tried a virtual reality headset like the Oculus Rift, Gear VR, or HTC Vive — it’s difficult to understand why VR will be so profound.
Right now, most virtual reality apps are about gaming. But that’s not why you’ll care about virtual reality.
Social apps will be the “killer app” that convinces everyday people to drop hundreds of dollars on a virtual reality platform.
Imagine donning a VR headset and getting transported to a giant mansion, where you and 60 other people — friends, family and acquaintances — watch the Super Bowl together on a giant virtual TV that’s streaming the game in real-time.
Imagine visiting a virtual playground with giant versions of board games for you and your friends to play — or, to just stand around and chat with each other — even if those friends are across the country, or on a different continent.
These aren’t just ideas; these are actual virtual reality experiences you can try right now, thanks to two-year-old AltSpaceVR, which has raised $US5.2 million in one funding round to create social applications within virtual spaces.
Back in March, AltSpaceVR invited me into its virtual social universe — a combination of the Oculus Rift headset and its own proprietary software — where you can talk, play games, and watch videos with your friends…well, avatars of your friends, which look like EVE from the Pixar movie “Wall-E.”
If you enjoy watching endless YouTube videos on your computer — and who doesn’t? — you’ll enjoy it 10 times more in virtual reality, surrounded by friends and perhaps random acquaintances who you can talk and listen to even as the videos are playing in the background.
These social VR applications are extremely realistic, thanks to the power of 3D audio. Simply put, 3D audio — often called “spatial audio” — is the concept of true-to-life hearing. For example: If someone’s avatar is far away from you, or standing right next to you, you’ll hear their voice accordingly. You’ll know if someone is to your right or left, near or far, which helps make the interaction feel more like real life.
Thanks to AltSpaceVR, I finally understood why Facebook dropped $US2 billion on a virtual reality company: Social is, and has always been, the application that drives technologies forward.
We ultimately want technology to make our lives easier, to expand our abilities as humans. Facebook made it incredibly easy to make friends, but also keep track of those people and maintain those friendships online.
In virtual reality, you’ll be able to better keep up with all your friends, especially those who may be far-flung: Real-world interactions can’t be replaced, but virtual reality is the next best thing, since you can invite dozens, even hundreds of people, regardless of geography, into a fantastic virtual area to catch up, play music and games, and watch movies together.
Virtual reality also has huge potential to meet new people.
If you and your friends can invite anyone you want to the virtual setting, you have limitless potential to create new connections — I could easily imagine a Facebook-like “Add Friend” option popping up above a user’s avatar, in case you’re clicking with someone you’ve met in VR. As it turns out, Facebook owns one of the foremost VR companies: Oculus VR, makers of the Oculus Rift launching in early 2016.
Imagine if a company like Skype imported its instant translation technology to virtual settings. VR could transcend language.
Virtual reality would be recognised as the ultimate social platform, where you can connect to anyone, anywhere, regardless of physical and linguistic limitations.
Last week, I tried HTC’s premium virtual reality headset, called the Vive. I’m convinced it’s the best virtual reality experience out there right now. But even with all the incredible imagery in front of my eyes, I kept thinking back to my demo with AltSpaceVR. It would be nearly impossible for someone to truly believe what I had just seen in the HTC Vive. Painting 3D objects in mid-air, visiting an underwater shipwreck and cooking in a virtual kitchen is extremely fun, but it’s nothing if you can’t share in these experiences with others. Once that happens, virtual reality might finally be better than the real thing.
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