The mobile phone had the pager; the smartphone had the pocket organizer and mp3 player; the portable radio, too, had a crank before batteries. As much as these reshapings were about technological advancements, they had more to do with human behavior. Entrepreneurs strive for the next big thing and marketing promises flawless execution. But it is we, the actual consumers, who need to catch-up.
LET’S BEGIN WITH APPLE
The Newton was a failed platform launched by Apple in the late 80s and soon discontinued. Marketed as a personal digital assistant, it promised to replace personal computing. It was one screen, with signature recognition and a clever stylus with tons of proprietary features.
Was the market ready?
How can you replace personal computing when even personal computing didn’t have the internet, email, the cloud, or eCommerce? The vision behind the Newton was clear, but the consumer steps required to get there had not been taken. Personal computing itself needed to mature before the market was ready for PDAs. Faster processors, laptop computers, and flash drives all contributed to growing consumer confidence in storing private data and personnel information on machines. Really, the PDA wasn’t trying to replace the personnel computer, but rather the rolodex and the notepad.
From these oversights, however, Apple created the iPod and iMac, and on open source software nonetheless. Each of their subsequent product launches, in fact, demonstrate the lessons learned from the Newton fiasco. It’s no coincidence that the iWatch was released in 2015 and not in 2013 when many “experts” demanded its release.
Just because you’ve thought of it and can build it doesn’t mean that the market is ready.
IT’S VIRTUAL REALITY TIME
With holograms appearing at rock festivals, second life type virtual world video games booming, and a record setting Kickstarter, Virtual Reality is here and it ain’t the Lawnmower Man.
Since Oculus Rift came onto the scene, every one is chasing the inevitability of VR and AR. Clearly this is the next next big thing. A 6 billion dollar market by 2018. Google, Sony, Samsung, even Quantas Airlines are all chasing this golden chalice.
Who is the VR consumer?
What do they like? Where do they live? How much do they make a year? It’s impossible to answer these simple market questions because it takes while next big things to move from our dinner table conversations into our living rooms and daily lives. Frankly, it’s possible that VR could go the way of the Segway. It’s no coincidence that Google pulled out of Glass so swiftly as their product roadmap had a big 2020 circled on a whiteboard with “Critical Mass” written above it. What is an entire product team suppose to do for five years with a camera and a plastic frame?
There’s Going to be a VR Learning Curve
There are impulse buys and purchase decisions. Virtual Reality is a whole new platform. A whole new set of rules and code. It will require a large commitment not only in terms of purchasing power but also time. For those of us that use budget headsets wrapped in cardboard — how will it look? How will it sound?
The questions seem to be far outweighing the answers: a typical sign that the market is not yet ready.
JUST LIKE APPLE, VR NEEDS A BABY STEP
Virtual Reality will require an intermediary phase. Baby steps that help everyday users grasp the idea and aid in the necessary comfort level that’s required with technology, the first phase of which, we’re already in.
PHASE 1 (A): THE SELFIE
Narcissism is a great thing for Virtual Reality. We’re learning to control how we record our environments. We’re getting closer to machines, staring at them like mirrors. We’re consciously shaping the world around us — adjusting saturation levels training our eyes to see the world in almost comical tones — and framing it in a way that looks sculpted. Providing users control and intimacy with devices is a giant leap forward.
PHASE 1 (B): VIDEO GAMES
Games have come a long way since Atari and Pong. Code engines have caught up with our appetite for large 4K flat screen televisions. Successful platforms like the Wii have enabled us to move and engage in the action apart from slouching in our armchairs. But we’re no longer dot bit matrix characters on a flat screen shoving a tiny sword as we once did in Zelda — what is most crucial is the story telling. The masterminds at Rockstar games have built an environment fit for Hollywood with their Grand Theft Auto franchise. Now we control the story, where we want to go, and in an environment that is familiar to us (or at least for those of us in Los Angeles).
We mustn’t overlook how important the story aspect is. GTA truly empowered us to entertain ourselves — the way we want to be entertained. The game is a platform. Some play to smash cars, others follow the dialog, others to shoot ad nauseam. The list goes on. Rockstar built a world for us to frolic in. All we have to do is enjoy it.
PHASE 1 (C): YOUTUBE
This one is pretty self explanatory. Distribution without rules and filters — the merits of instant video needn’t be explained at length here. A platform that enables communities to share and communicate without moderation is amazing. The precursor to YouTube was the message board. Now we’re publicizing our home videos, adventures, and comedic moments. We can learn math, how to tune a guitar, how to debug almost anything — all from a complete stranger via our phones, TV, computers, or random screens on the street. Ten years ago, this was not possible. No platforms have succeeded in molding education and entertainment into one package as effectively as YouTube. Not bad for an advertising platform.
PHASE 1 (D): MEERKAT & PERISCOPE
Meerkat and Periscope are the first apps to successfully bring smartphone live streaming to consumers via a smart device. Now audiences can tune in to real world events, in real time, to anyone with a camera and internet connection. As a viewer, our experience is passive, we concede to the will of what the broadcaster wants us to see, but still we’re there. In real time.
PHASE 1 (E): GOPRO
Quality video in a small affordable package. You can take it anywhere, put it anywhere, and experience any point of view. I wonder what its like to be a mouse at a music festival — I put a GoPro on a rat. I wonder what it’s like to jump from space down to earth — I put a GoPro on an astronaut. I wonder what it’s like to be in a race car — I strap a GoPro on an F1 driver. We’re seeing the world from a series of POVs. All because of one tool. GoPro is a testament to the era of Passive VR. The best is yet to come.
PHASE 1 (F): HOOKE AUDIO
Here comes the shameless plug, full disclosure.
Before we can achieve brilliant audio for Virtual Reality we also need to go through a Passive VR step for audio. There are several software solutions that enable machines to interpret and condense audio to trick users into thinking that they’re listening to binaural recordings or 3D sound. But so far, the market doesn’t even know what 3D audio is, what a binaural microphone does, how 5.1 sound really works, or the difference between a good audio track and brilliant sound recording. People still think that mono can be stereo and so on.
The market is not yet intimate with audio. We’re beginning to see this with the ASMR community and the advent of acoustic therapy (http://www.re-compose.com/science-and-research.html). Radio and blogs have come close, but we still don’t have the control or true POV of the listener. The closest audio platform we have is SoundCloud, which we love, but it has a ways to go before it hits the critical mass and scale of YouTube.
Finally, we lack the tool. It is still mind boggling that quality microphones do not work with smartphones. The ones that do work are still using technologies developed in the 20s and 30s. Before we can assume that the market will respond to VR audio, doesn’t it make sense to give them Passive Reality audio first?
Binaural recording technologies and microphones are the perfect Passive Reality tool to prepare the market for the next wave of audio advancements to hit the market by 2019. In the short term, binaural should be included in the zeitgeist before the great debate between spatialization and localization can commence.
The selfie has made us overnight internet celebrities.
VideoGames have lent us control of whatever story we choose.
YouTube has given all of us a platform to share and learn.
Meerkat and Periscope have allowed us to live stream our lives.
GoPro has given us the ability to see from a perspective never before imagined.
Hooke has given us the ability to hear from a perspective never before imagined.
Video killed the Radio star.
There are still a few steps ahead of us before VR hits mass scale.
At least we’re in the first phase.
From One Ear To Another,