As I wrote on Tuesday, the venerable banking firm Goldman Sachs forecasts about 40-300 million virtual/augmented reality units will ship by 2025. But here's the thing: When you read the firm's actual report, you find some seriously questionable assumptions which should cause heavy skepticism that even the low 40 million estimate is actually going to happen.
When I read this passage in the report, my mouth dropped:
Virtual reality will grow, in other words, because it's intuitive and easy to use. Which means I need to say this with deep emphasis:
A device which literally blinds and deafens you to your surroundings is by definition not intuitive or easy to use.
Goldman Sachs' analysts are describing the usability of VR only from the perspective of the VR display. Because sure, it's easy and intuitive to wear an HMD rig which moves more or less naturally along with your head movements. But for potential consumers, that's only part of the usability question. The more obvious question being: Do I want to wear something that prevents me from easily seeing or hearing my surroundings for extended periods of time? That's a massive expectation to place on people, and outside dedicated VR enthusiasts, we have no idea whatsoever whether they will. And not withstanding one-off products like those blinder/ear muff things people wear to sleep on airplanes, there is not a single mass market device that does this -- certainly not one that costs $599.
As legendary game designer Warren Spector put it to me last year:
"The challenges I don't hear being addressed at all (or without appropriate seriousness) are cultural and social. Problems abound, but the big one I see are the isolating effect of simply wearing a headset. I believe most people will be genuinely frightened of and disoriented by being effectively blind to the outside world for the sake of entertainment... Even if I'm wrong about all this, I think people around VR users - spouses, friends, other family members - will be offended by a user's preference for virtual interactions over real ones right there in the room. I think the ridiculous look and feel of current headsets (which represent no advances over what we had in the 80s and 90s) will discourage people from looking foolish wearing them.
And strikingly, far as I can tell, even Goldman Sachs is not exploring these questions with any degree of seriousness. Instead, they and the VR industry are apparently plunging forward on the highly shaky premise that this is not a problem, and their products are sure to succeed. You know, like how everyone assumed the American housing market was rock solid... and we all know what happened there.
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