Steven Spielberg’s latest sci-fi film hits theaters this week: Ready Player One. Let’s chat about how its virtual world may be closer than we think–and what that means for your business.
In Ernest Cline’s novel, basis for the new film, we see Wade Watts (aka Parzival) living within a virtual reality called OASIS. The material world around Wade has effectively been destroyed. Politics have broken down into a dream of the past. People live in “stacks,” trailers piled on top of one another, with way too many people inside each unit. Relationships are casualties of these dire circumstances. In short, there isn’t much of a life for Wade outside the virtual reality wonderland OASIS. For him and the other inhabitants of his broken down world, VR has turned into “real” life for him. They spend all their time immersed in a digital universe free from the stifling circumstances around them. Now, all Wade has to do in the real world is keep his body alive, i.e. sleep and eat. His actual “living” happens online.
Let’s Rewind a Bit
Like the fictional scenario of Ready Player One, we can still see the anxieties and possibilities that life online has brought to us IRL (in real life). How’d we get so connected? In 2003, most people accessed the internet via desktop computers (Windows XP was just released). A few years after that, technology was able to fit in smaller container and we were able to transition to mostly laptop usage (unless you were a power user and needed super-power computing). Now, we have better internal hardware on our phones than we did on our desktop computers fifteen years ago. Let’s take it a little father back and do a very quick history lesson:
- 34 years ago in 1984 the most basic form of the internet started
- 27 years ago in 1991 the World Wide Web was established
- 15 years ago in 2003 we were given the first camera phone
- 11 years ago in 2007 Apple released the first iPhone
- 7 years ago in 2011 Oculus stepped into the Virtual Reality space
In the span of 28 years from 1984 to 2018, we went from the most basic form of internet to VR headsets able to be purchased by most middle class consumers. You have to take a moment to step back and think just how quickly this has progressed and how quickly we (as a society) have taken this technology and integrated it into our lives. In fact, I wouldn’t be running Classic City Consulting (as it is) if technology didn’t fast-track itself to where it is now. The crazy thing is, the more technological advances we make, the quicker our steps and the more ground they cover each time we take one. For better or worse, we’re not too far from an OASIS ourselves.
Where is Virtual Reality / Augmented Reality at Now?
We are living on the edge VR/AR technologies. A growing number of brands out there turn your mobile device into something that will let you feel like you are stepping into a new world. Video games have had to step their game up (pun totally intended) in order to compete for consumers’ play time as they want more immersive experiences and deeper storylines to dive into. Whether business or play, every site out there is trying to vie for as much of your screen time as possible – and we have plenty of screen time to give. It’s not a matter of whether or not your customers will be online: it’s whether or not they go online to interact with you or a competitor.
Google Glass, GeoFencing, and Your Business
For small-to-medium size businesses, it’s not like you have to start formatting your business’s website for the Oculus Rift. As of right now, it’s mostly the gaming industry that has had to be agile in development in order to capture the newest wave of people’s attention. But what Google tried a few years ago, Google Glass, is something I potentially see as a huge factor in changing how your business’s information gets out into the world, through completely different means than it does today.
Let’s look one of the most prominent mainstream VR app crazes, Pokemon Go. This game created an augmented reality on your phone. 3D animated objects (i.e. Pokemon characters) were geotagged to specific locations. Using GPS sensors + your phone’s camera, the game “places” the Pokemon in your physical space. Pikachu could be sitting right in front of you in the park – pretty stellar merge of reality and digital if you ask me.
Sure, Pokemon Go isn’t a “realistic” or a full-blown version of augmented reality. But it’s the first step to something bigger and better. Google Glass tried this reformatting of message / data delivery, and it may have been a few years ahead of it’s time. It went one step further than Pokemon Go. It placed a small clear screen in front of your eye so you could see information without having to pull out your phone.
It was a stellar idea, however no one wanted to walk around with one of these obtuse devices sticking out from their ears and eye. They have since repurposed it from consumer use to manufacturing/medical applications where it assists people with their jobs by providing appropriate information without tying up hands to hold a tablet or folder of papers.
This is where the first shift in our mindset comes: with this repurposing, the data that these people need for their job is much easier to access and they can be doing their job while interfacing with the data they need to have handy. The keyword here is data. It’s not about being able to access PDFs and Word Docs from a digital eyepatch – it’s about having data stored in a format that is flexible enough to bend itself to the device on which it needs to be used.
Ten years ago we designed websites to be usable on a computer monitor – nothing else. Once the iPhone was created and put in the hands of millions, having your site look good on a mobile device became more than a luxury: it’s now a requirement by Google’s search engine law. As web developers, we took this cue and made all our new websites tablet / mobile friendly. We took the normal set of data and bent it in a way that the size of the device didn’t matter – the end user still was able to receive the information they needed to call a company, order a product, sign up for an account, or register for an event.
Changes Are Coming
When AR/VR get their kinks worked out in the gaming world – and become more wide spread in the consumer sector – we’ll start seeing more augmented reality kick in. Like Wade Watts experiences in the OASIS of Ready Player One, we’ll see commercial exchange, social interaction, and personal projection layered into local spaces thru new devices. Right now, geofencing is the newest form of advertisement to hit the market. Life online is local again, anchored to geographic coordinates and free from dependence on clunky desktop access or ethernet cords. We’re wireless, mobile, and soon we’ll be hands-free, too.
Once a company starts figuring out a way to make a more consumer-friendly version of Google Glass, new ways of interacting with your business’s data will be brought to the table much like when Apple released the new iPhone. Who knows – when X Box Kinect technology merges with geofencing and Google Glass, maybe we’ll get to be like Iron Man or Wade Watts, moving virtual objects around free from keyboards and screens.