We’re exploring the latest buzzwords and explaining what they mean for your company with our Future of Work series. This month we’re looking at VR.
Everyone’s talking about virtual reality.
It’s an exciting piece of technology, straight out of science fiction, that quite literally changes the way we see the world. First, we were going to have fun. Then, businesses suddenly took an interest.
In fact, it’s forecast to be worth a massive $140 billion by 2020, so it’s safe to assume a lot of us believe in its future. But, what are we actually expecting to happen?
Before we jump on the bandwagon, let’s investigate 4 key areas VR has on its agenda.
Businesses are built on great ideas, but coming up with them can be painful. Especially since, you know, brainstorming makes you worse at coming up with ideas.
So, when a fun new technology came along, entrepreneurs took note. They're betting that brainstorming, 3D modelling and prototyping in VR is the future of work.
And thanks to all the investment in the entertainment side of VR, we’re awash with proof of concepts. Take Kingspray, a graffiti simulator that, as you’d expect, let’s user’s spray paint on virtual walls. Sounds much more fun than the average whiteboard, right?
It's an exciting headline, but businesses aren't taking up the offer. Having a headset in your home is one thing, kitting out the office is another. Time and again the tools that have won out have been the simplest to adopt.
Take Trello. Against all odds, this tool has managed to perfect making lists. It's free and makes for quick, painless visual ideation. Currently, it's a no-brainer.
Data is never something people get excited about. But, the consensus nowadays is that data is pretty important. In fact, Forbes says that ignoring data “could be absolutely devastating for companies who are falling behind."
And, despite the amount of data supposedly doubling every year, less than 1% is actually analysed. So when VR came along, a lot of businesses saw the potential to make looking at data much easier.
One of those was Bloomberg. They developed their own trading floor prototype with one problem in its sights: the lack of screen space faced by data-hungry traders.
The problem with this is that Bloomberg is a major business with the resources to build such a bespoke tool. Most VR products are developed by small startups, on a small budget, with a small potential customer base. To top it off, Bloomberg made it back in 2014, and we haven’t heard anything since. It solved a real-world problem, but a very niche one at that.
Here’s something you might not know: science has shown that by just having a plant you’ll be happier, get more work done and take fewer days off sick.
Some VR developers knew this, and they felt inspired. One company, Mure VR, “turns Your office into a vacation paradise.”
But to me, this seems like the wrong solution to a real problem.
First, it eliminates the motivation for companies to invest in decent workspaces. It’s not that employees won’t need plants on their desks anymore, it that they won’t even need access to windows.
Second, prolonged time spent in VR has shown to have adverse health effects. Aside from the obvious damage to your eyes, movement within VR has been shown to prompt nausea.
A working day in VR starts to sounds much less like a paradise, and more like an episode of Black Mirror.
Businesses live and die by spreadsheets. So, when you want to build a VR product that changes the way we work, it sounds like a good place to start.
Envelop VR took this idea and developed virtual versions of Microsoft Excel and Powerpoint. They even built these using virtual dev tools. There was quite a bit of excitement, with one journalist, who actually got a test drive, commenting “it's definitely way more fun.”
But after all the fun, they shut down.
To reach mass appeal there’s one thing tech should do: make our lives easier. And when it comes to spreadsheets, a desktop did the job just fine.
For now, we’ll keep trying VR.
But what I predict we’ll see repeatedly is this: a simple, lightweight web app will always win out. They’re cheaper, easier to build and are far more adaptable. If tech can nail those three factors down it’s going to be much more than a buzzword. But VR just doesn’t cut it, yet.