A lot of people were skeptical about Philip Rosedale's prediction that we could get 1 billion virtual reality users by 2021, so I asked Philip to expand. What gives him confidence that VR will be as rapidly adopted as smartphones? After all, I pointed out to him, smartphone adoption was so fast because it combined an intuitive touch interface with two already existing, familiar necessities -- calling/texting and web browsing. How's VR follow that pattern?
"My thinking is based partly on looking at graphs like this," he tells me, passing along a link to the technology adoption chart abbreviated above. "I think what is happening is that when something is created that has great utility to everyone in comparison to its initial cost (like the TV or the smartphone), the overall technology trends around manufacture and distribution are driving the diffusion rate up to a point where great things will go from early adoption (10% penetration) to saturation (90% penetration) in a time period of just a few years. Another great example which is a subset of the 'Internet' item on that graph is the rise of broadband connectivity to the Internet, which also require new hardware."
And that last bit is a particularly good point:
Broadband Internet connectivity was quickly adopted within the first 7 or so years of it first being available. Philip continues:
"And I believe that Virtual Reality will have broad and significant utility to everyone in a manner similar to the smartphone or to broadband. This statement is of course a prediction, because we have not yet seen the 'killer apps' in VR that will drive this behavior. But I think that Second Life has already demonstrated categories of use - for example live performance - that are very likely to become killer apps if the adoption barrier is driven to nearly zero by new hardware like the HMD." (We saw an example of virtual reality-driven live performance the other day, on Philip's High Fidelity.)
Overall, I'd say this is a good case for mass adoption, especially if the first few years of Oculus Rift on the market are strong. Decent smartphones are now given away by carriers for free, and if early results are promising, I can see them offering VR HMDs for an equally good bargain.
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