However, there are some encouraging signs. Research suggests that virtual reality headsets are more popular than tablets and wearables were at the same stage of development, while global revenue for AR and VR is predicted to reach $143 billion by 2020.
Recently, we’ve also seen a number of brands focus on VR, integrating the tech into apps and marketing campaigns. Here’s a round-up of a few of the most innovative examples.
According to Facebook, 48% of people who view charity content in VR are likely to donate to the cause they experience. This is because of the tool’s ability to create empathy, by transporting users to another world, and by placing them in someone else’s shoes. Other research backs this up – a 2017 Nielsen study found that 84% of VR viewers demonstrated brand recall, compared with only 53% of those who viewed standard video advertising.
Greenpeace is one charity to capitalise on this power, using VR headsets at events like Glastonbury to encourage charity sign-ups. It has also released the Greenpeace VR Explorer app, which allows users to immerse themselves in far-flung locations like the Amazon rainforest or the Arctic.
This has been particularly helpful for Greenpeace, as it works to protect places that people are rarely able to visit in person. As a result, the VR experience brings supporters closer, helping to forge more of a connection between the money they donate and the work done to protect the environment.
Velux, a company that specialises in roof windows and skylights, recently launched the MyDaylight app to help customers visualise the benefits of an installation in their own home.
It lets users design a room by easily inputting dimensions such as roof height and ceiling pitch, before customising with windows, skylights, and decorative finishes. The app then generates a digital simulation of the final result which can be viewed in 360 degrees, or with the use of a headset, in virtual reality.
While we’ve previously seen home décor brands experiment with AR to help consumers visualise design – Ikea Place is one of the biggest – this is one of the first times a brand has used VR to create a fully immersive experience.
With home improvements typically taking more time and deliberation (and therefore a longer journey to purchase), the MyDaylight app is a good example of how to utilise the technology to guide decision-making as well as inspiration.
Lowes is another home improvement brand to experiment with VR technology, having introduced a VR experience in select US stores last year.
The idea behind ‘Holoroom How To’ is to provide customers with immersive training so that they feel confident in undertaking tricky DIY projects. When customers put on the headset, for example, they will be given instructions on how to complete a task, such as tiling a wall or putting up a shelf.
As well as educating customers, the aim for Lowes is to prompt customers to scale up DIY and carry out projects they might have previously felt were too difficult or complicated.
With other initiatives such as the ‘Vision’ AR app and ‘Measured by Lowes’, the brand’s dedication to innovation is evident – it was also recently named the number one most innovative company in AR/VR by Fast Company.
Alzheimer’s Research UK
Alzheimer’s Research UK is another charity, like Greenpeace, using virtual reality, this time to help break down common assumptions and increase understanding about dementia.
Many people assume the disease only affects the aged, with memory loss being the main and only symptom. However, the reality is often very different, with various forms of dementia resulting in a wide range of hugely challenging symptoms.
The ’Walk Through Dementia’ app – which works in conjunction with Google Cardboard – allows users to experience everyday scenarios, such as being at the supermarket, while suffering symptoms of the disease.
From sensory overload to changes in food preferences, the app effectively highlights the reality of what it is like to live with dementia. In turn, it has created a powerful way to connect with supporters of the charity as well as encourage new people to join and offer help.
New York Times
Publishers and journalists can also benefit from virtual reality’s ability to create a sense of place. The New York Times is particularly skilled at integrating the technology into its reporting, specifically to enhance stories where location is key.
In 2015, it launched the NYT VR app in conjunction with Displaced – a VR film about three children displaced by war. Through VR, viewers can experience what it’s like to be inside a refugee camp, from the viewpoint of those affected.
Since Displaced, the New York Times has gone on to publish more than 20 VR films, and more recently, it has launched the Daily 360 – a series of VR or 360-degree video filmed from a different location in the world every day.
The power of virtual reality for journalism is being recognised elsewhere too. The Guardian also has its own app specifically for VR stories, as does broadcaster ARTE (which also created the award-winning VR film, Notes on Blindness.)
The Winter Olympics is an exciting spectacle even on bog-standard television, but this year, NBC is aiming to make it even more so by broadcasting it in full virtual reality.
Compatible with headsets including Gear VR, Google Daydream/Cardboard, and Windows Mixed Reality – the NBC Sports VR app allows viewers to become fully immersed in sports such as ski jumping and speed skating.
Interestingly, some have bemoaned the technology as being glitchy and frustrating to use, even labelling it as a gimmick. That being said, it still marks a change in the way consumers are starting to view VR.
According to a recent study, 30% of consumers are predicted to start watching TV via VR headsets in the next few years. So, with mass-media broadcasters like NBC paving the way, it might not be too long before we see fewer sales of big-screen TV’s, and even more VR headsets.