For those who follow the tech industry, there's no escaping the flurry of news surrounding the budding virtual reality market, and for good reason. Estimates of VR's potential vary, but most industry pundits agree that the technology is ready to go mainstream.
The advances made this year, in both the number of VR devices on store shelves or coming soon, and in the host of creative applications exploring its possibilities beyond the obvious gaming market, have laid the foundation for a bold, new VR world. While there's been no shortage of VR-related news in 2015, several items stood out -- changes that will likely have an impact for years to come.
Here it comes
In what was described by some as a "shocker," Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) took a $2 billion leap into the VR market when it acquired Oculus in early 2014. Based on the momentum VR gained this year, the price CEO Mark Zuckerberg's paid to enter the hardware business via Oculus and its Rift headset could prove to be a steal.
As per a recent report from Statista , the Rift sits atop the list of VR headsets in terms of popularity. Of those polled, 35% of U.S. consumers have heard of Oculus Rift, beating out the 32% that are familiar with Samsung's (OTC:SSNLF) mobile device Gear -- which, coincidentally, was developed by Oculus. The good news for Rift aficionados -- and clearly there are a lot -- was confirmation from Zuckerberg that the VR headset remains on schedule for mass release in "early 2016."
How big is big?
If its feels as though most every big hitter in tech is champing at the bit to enter the VR fray, it's because they are. In addition to Facebook's Rift and Samsung's Gear, Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) has its cheap and simplistic Cardboard headset, and PlayStation console king Sony's (NYSE:SNE) Project Morpheus VR is expected next year, among a host of others.
Why all the clamor? It's been estimated that VR devices and their related enterprise uses will become a $30 billion a year industry by 2020. That kind of opportunity will bring out the big boys, which should prove to be a positive for consumers as the Facebooks, Alphabets, and Samsungs of the world fight for market share. Competition should ensure top quality devices, along with prices that will make VR accessible to the masses.
Beyond the games
To no one's surprise, the growth of the VR market will be driven by the world's gaming community, something Zuckerberg acknowledged when announcing the acquisition of Oculus. But games are merely the beginning for virtual reality. Industries including construction, engineering, healthcare, and education are all ripe for the introduction of VR, and the list doesn't end there.
Already, some health-conscious folks are able to "virtually" exercise, the fashion industry is experimenting with various applications, and some expect the future of in-flight entertainment will incorporate VR, to name but a few recent advances. As VR branches out beyond gaming, either in the aforementioned alternatives or into as-yet-unimagined uses, that $30 billion estimate for the size of the VR market in a few years may prove conservative.
Testing the ad waters
Excited about the possibilities VR brings to the table, but don't have a Samsung Galaxy smartphone to utilize its Gear device, or have opted against Alphabet's cardboard VR contraption? Though not quite the same experience as VR, Facebook and Alphabet are testing 360-degree video ads for both desktop and mobile, which have been described as "virtual reality lite."
It's easy to see why Facebook and Alphabet aren't waiting around to implement VR technology into their marketing efforts, though both are in the testing phase. Two-thirds of consumers said they are interested in virtual shopping, in large part because it gives them a more realistic "feel" for a product or service prior to buying it.
Today it may be more virtual reality lite than true VR, but after gaining a head of steam this year, you can bet 2016 will be the first of many hyper-growth years to come.