The Virtual Reality Future: A Conversation with Ariel Shimoni

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What is the future of virtual reality? With brands and agencies and developers and publishers all wondering what’s possible, they also want to understand the ways that VR can be monetized. While the final answers aren’t known, it surely will require connected interplay among content, hardware, measurements, data, and more.

To help understand where VR might be heading, we spoke with Ariel Shimoni, StartApp’s Director of Virtual Reality. Read part one of our discussion below:

This content originally appeared on our podcast series: StartApp Conversations. Listen to “Ariel Shimoni, StartApp” here!

Note: This conversation has been edited for length & clarity


How would you characterize where we are in the virtual reality life cycle?

 

Ariel: If I could compare this to the app ecosystem, I would say we’re at about 2009, maybe 2010, when Android was slowly getting in there and Apple has established themselves. The ecosystem is starting to roll and adoption is starting to pick up. We’re right about there but in a very, very different sense.

That’s a really actually very useful comparison. By 2009, 2010 apps were a thing. We all might not have been using them. Maybe it was only the cool kids but they could see where apps were going. Today obviously, we all use apps. That’s what you would say about virtual reality, I guess?

 

Ariel: Yes. I think that there is still this massive hype that might do a disservice to VR, but in terms of where it is, I think everybody is in agreement that this will be, at some point, a very big part of our lives.

Talk to me about the hype. Why do you think there is the hype? Are we all worried about missing the next new thing? Or wanting to be on top of the next new thing? Why do you think there is such hype around VR? What is the downside to it?

 

A: I think every new technology has a certain amount of hype around it. It’s natural. People get excited about new technology. They start envisioning how our future is going to be when this thing is mature. I think that is very positive hype that brings more and more smart people and good brains into dissecting the medium and seeing what uses it can bring. That’s a good part of it.

I think what sets VR apart is that it’s been on our minds for such a long time. The concept was born decades ago from science fiction. I know personally, as a gamer, I’ve been waiting for this technology since I was five years old. I’m so excited to get my hands on it.

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However, when there are high levels of excitement about a new technology and then it’s not quite where people think it is, then the hype starts to get negative and people start asking whether this is even a revolution. Or it’s just a phase like 3-D television.

I’m obviously on the very, very excited side of the hype.

What about the chicken and egg around VR? You’ve got the hardware. You’ve got the software. You’ve got the content. You’ve got the brands. You’ve got the developer. Which comes first?

 

A: OK, I think with the chicken and the egg, I don’t know what the third one would be, but I think …

The rooster?

 

A: [Laughs] Yeah, maybe the rooster, which I would say that would be people actually adopting this new technology. I guess it’s a mixture of the chicken and the egg. If these two match, then adoption starts to pick up. Then a new technological revolution is born.

Again, if we go into smartphones, the iPhone kind of blew people’s minds. This is something that has been discussed over the past six, eight, 10 months with VR. A lot of people are saying that they are waiting for the killer app.

I’m one of those people isn’t sure that thing exists. I don’t know if that is what we’re waiting for. Hardware-wise, 2016 brought so many explosive new devices to the VR market. HTC and the Rift. Samsung brought in two versions of the Gear VR.

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On the hardware part, we’re making progress. I heard recently that there aren’t expected to be any major hardware releases at least until 2018. The second generation. I guess between the hardware & software now, I would put the weight on the content side of that.

Content and software have to carry more of the weight in terms of proving the VR concept as real. Just as an example, I’m not sure that any of the AAA game studios they have picked up this technology yet. Most of the most amazing titles I have been witnessing in VR come from mid-sized or indie studios. I’m not entirely sure what the reason for this is but I think it’s a part of the problem.

It really sounds like what you’re seeing based on your experience and your intuition is more of an evolution. You’re not seeing a quantum leap. It sounds like you are seeing an evolution of baby steps as opposed to one or two giant leaps. Is that a fair characterization of your analysis?

 

A: You framed it in a good way. There are technological boundaries for VR right now. The screen resolution and the processing power, for example, of mobile VR bring a good experience to a certain extent but that prevents it from being a completely mind-blowing visual experience. You still have a Samsung phone two inches from your eyeballs. You can’t have that in 4K just yet.

We will need to do those baby steps in order to get the technology that can produce incredible, incredible content.

But, I’ll put a little asterisk on this. I have the privilege to be the person that shows VR to people for the first time. Even using the most basic VR experience that I just download from the Google Play Store and put it into Cardboard, people’s mind are blown from what they’re seeing.

It’s one of the things that gets me so excited about this technology. If right now, in the very, very early stages of this new media, we’re able to amaze people, then in five to 10 years, this is going to be something that we have maybe never seen before in terms of its impact on our society.


 

You can hear this conversation in its original podcast format here. Check out Part 2 of the conversation here!

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