The lockdown imposed to avoid the spread of COVID-19 should make us think about our interface with the world, and the opportunities to redefine them when these measures end. For the vast majority of us, the weeks of confinement have meant more time in front of a screen, be it larger (computer) or smaller (smartphone), but in any case, a screen: a two-dimensional surface in front of our eyes.
What would the experience have been like if our usual interface was not that two-dimensional screen, but something richer and more immersive, and what will that experience be like in the months to come, with less rigid measures but a multitude of situations in which many businesses will encounter changes of all kinds in their interaction models?
If one thing is clear to me, it is that the pandemic will present, for those who know how to take advantage of it, a huge opportunity for digital transformation and for the redesign of many things: to think that my students, for example, will continue to experience their interaction with content through something as external and alien as a screen, which creates a border that immediately separates me as a teacher from them and constantly reminds us that we are on a different plane of interaction, makes even me question the continuity of my model. But for anybody whose job involves interaction with people, failing to come up with imaginative alternatives to face-to-face contact will mean failing to adapt to the demands of the very near future.
If there were a moment to consider the importance of virtual reality, this is it. Several years ago I wrote that Apple was developing virtual and augmented reality as its next ace in the hole. The company has apparently been working for some time on a head-mounted display (HMD) that, with patents included, offers users a much more advantageous way to content than through a computer screen, a tablet or a smartphone. In addition, in October 2019 it purchased IKinema, a British company specializing in real-time procedural animation and full-body resolution technology, and now appears to be in the process of acquiring NextVR for $100 million, a virtual reality content creation company that has agreements with numerous sports leagues and competitions, films, etc. and whose workers have already been told to relocate to Cupertino.
Obviously, Apple’s success will largely depend on its growing interest in services, which means we can expect strong growth in games, series, films and content in general designed to be consumed in its virtual reality viewer. I have little doubt that a launch of a viewer by Apple would mean the reinvention of a whole new category — there are already viewers and platforms by brands such as Oculus, HTC, Valve, Google or Microsoft, but none of them has made much impact — and that will once again see lengthy lines outside its stores, and even more interest if it produces new content.
In other words, as on so many previous occasions, we would see Apple arrive late to market, but then take it over, in this case, helped by a market that, after a pandemic and a long confinement, is probably craving for more interactive interfaces. And as on previous occasions, success for Apple in the field of virtual reality would be a huge boost for the whole category, with all that this entails for the future of interaction.
Take a good look at the object you see in the picture, because it will probably be part of your equipment soon, in that form, or reinterpreted in some way. It’s been clear to me for a long time that the screen, despite the great use I make of it — or precisely for that reason — gets in the way, and that I see a future coming where a lot of content, whether it’s entertainment, training, interaction or other types, will come to us through some kind of viewer that projects those images as part of an immersive experience.
It’s becoming increasingly clear to me that the pandemic will be the catalyst for the mass adoption of a technology whose time has clearly come. If you are not yet familiar with it, if you have not yet considered how it will influence your business, then start thinking about it now.
About the Author
This article was written by Enrique Dans, professor of Innovation at IE Business School and blogger at enriquedans.com.