Time for a reality check for virtual reality

Editor’s note: Nick Wingfield and I worked together at CNET News when I was the Editor. He’s now at The New York Times and has a sobering writeup on the hype behind virtual reality — a technology our County is gambling on for economic development, largely through its over $600,000 multi-year investment in initiatives of the Economic Resource Council. Nick is spot on, as all of us who have written extensively about technology in Silicon Valley know:

“For a technology to crack the mainstream, there is an unspoken understanding: It shouldn’t make the people who use it want to throw up,” the New York Times is reporting.

“And yet there was a reminder, at last week’s International CES trade show in Las Vegas, of how far virtual reality has to go until everyone is ready to fasten 3-D goggles to their faces. At a news conference, Intel, the chip maker, provided virtual reality headsets to about 250 attendees so they could watch a 3-D video from the perspective of sky divers hurtling out of a helicopter in wingsuits. Intel also passed out motion sickness bags to everyone, in case anybody felt inclined to vomit, an unfortunate side effect of turbulent virtual reality experiences for some people.

“Laura Anderson, an Intel spokeswoman, said the company had provided the bags ‘out of an abundance of caution and to be tongue in cheek about our immersive experience.’ No one used the bags, she said.

“It is time for a reality check for virtual reality, one of the most hyped technologies of last year. Sales of the most capable headsets have been sluggish by most estimates, held back by high costs, a lack of must-have content, and the complexity and awkwardness of the products. Less expensive mobile headsets that use smartphones as their screens are selling better, but are far more limited in what they can do.”

The rest of the article is here.

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website SierraCulture.com. Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for years, was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News, and was Editor of The Union, a 145-year-old newspaper in Grass Valley. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing and trout fishing.

8 thoughts on “Time for a reality check for virtual reality”

  1. I have been using the Google Daydream VR headset for the past few weeks. I love it!!!! I think there is a lot of potential with VR and am glad to see that we are going after this emerging market. I personally think long term augmented reality is going to be the real game changer but it is a much more difficult problem. VR is a good way to develop expertise and get our area poised for the next big thing. Technology will always evolve and change, being in the game is what is important. Silicon Valley was invented on “Silicon” when chipmakers were King! It is now very different technology and will be again, but it will always be a technology hub. I commend the ERC trying to build a technology development segment here and don’t see anything wrong with have VR as part of that.

    1. Steve,
      Thanks for sharing your experience with Google Daydream. I hope we’re not putting too many eggs in one basket and can incubate some VR activity around here. In our region, I was hoping for something like a world-class culinary academy instead. It seemed more appropriate. Meanwhile, here’s what’s up next week at the Wild & Scenic Film Festival, a virtual-reality lounge: https://www.wildandscenicfilmfestival.org/virtual-reality-lounge/

  2. Can anyone help Me?
    As I read about these VR headsets I got to thinking about an old film called, “Brainstorm”, it was Natalie Woods’ last film.
    The film put forth both the human benefits and pitfalls of VR.
    Then, I got to remembering a sci-fi story I read when I was a kid.
    It was about a world so dangerously polluted that humans had been living in an embryonic state for decades in a fluid environment with VR headsets that allowed them to experience a kind of virtual earthly existence.
    They ate something from a tube called “vege-pap”
    But one man decides he does not wish to live this way and decides to escape.
    I think it may have been an Arthur Clark or Heinlein story or novel, but I can’t find anything like it online.
    Do any other Baby boomer sci-fi geeks remember this story?
    Because all this crazy 21st century cyber life invading our lives and now our political processes is getting much more interesting and concerning as I remember this prescient old story.

    1. I don’t know the book you are talking about. However there is a great book written more recently called Ready Player One that also is all about VR in a future world where the outside world has gone so far downhill that life in VR is a much better place. I think it is a good read.

  3. Steve,
    I also commend Mr. Gregory and his limited partnership for going after VR/AR as an interesting business opportunity. I think the question, though, is who is it benefitting? The ERC which receives a good deal of tax payer money from the county and last year the county, the federal taxpayer, and some of our town coffers, should be focused on initiatives that deliver the impact for the widest number of our citizens. It should be data-driven and impact-measure-focused vs. trend-driven and PR-Activity focused. IMHO, the ERC is living in its own virtual realty while ignoring the real reality of its citizens. The ERC’s promotion of the private partnership, GSI, as a form of economic development amounts to a form of “tech” tourism that has less financial impact than something like the Wild and Scenic Film Festival, benefiting a few narrow business interests while keeping it distracted from the > 1/3 of our citizens who live barely at the California subsistence level. A colonial-based approach of economic development that focuses on importing new citizens with new money will only go so far and continue to create economy divides. The real issue of our age is under-employment and steep declines in the number of job positions for low to middle skilled workers. Fortunately, there are new innovative programs such as DigiGig (www.digigig.org) that have been recently launched in the community to focus on the real reality of how to address the local opportunity gap and potentially improve incomes for a wider audience.

    1. I applaud the DigiGig initiative. I think this is a great opportunity for those willing to pursue it. It will also only benefit a small slice of our community. The trend in the last decade has been for companies to bring their workers back in house. The 2000’s were all about outsourcing and remote workers. Major companies have reversed themselves on work from home programs and are more and more requiring employees to work at least a certain number of days a week in the office. There are opportunities that DigiGig could provide however we still need local employers. I think this is an all of the above situation.

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