The Metaverse is driving with VR riding shotgun

Meta’s announcement of its new, high-end Quest Pro virtual reality headset is an exciting development for the industry, as the race to open up the Metaverse continues at a pace. Yet its $1,499 pricing is complex; there’s little doubt it will open up more capability for VR more generally, but the price-point remains the preserve of the wealthy and offers very little mainstream opportunity.

Meta’s new Quest Pro VR headset (source: Meta via BBC)

I’ve worked with VR to try and solve innovation challenges before. It’s a tough sell. Beyond any experience you can offer users inside a headset, there are many practical issues to overcome, namely space, hygiene (if it’s a shared headset), the anti-social nature of its use in a physical location, and all that’s before you encounter motion sickness and general accessibility issues of the devices. The novelty of the experience is usually very positive but easily overshadows the digital content itself – which is the point of VR.

A $1,499 headset would struggle in an enterprise setting. Procurement of such hardware – unless heavily discounted when purchased at scale – would be hard to justify for most use cases. Training is a great example of this; while able to enrich learning experiences, the hardware’s downtime away from office hours would offer a poor return on investment. And that’s assuming a business is able to muster staff to a physical location anyway, in our post-pandemic world.

You could argue that the market summit is a good place to pitch a device like this to consumers. Early adopters have always required deep pockets to be the first to embrace new products, and then the relative cost of technology drops as it becomes more mainstream. Therein perhaps lies Meta’s VR strategy: the cheapest way into VR has been via your existing smartphone and Google Cardboard, but its do-it-yourself nature and flimsy feel, a world away from anything Apple might produce in comparison, probably doesn’t meet its luxury target market needs. Indeed, the team at Cupertino are betting on augmented reality instead.

But are we really waiting for early adopters in VR now? Grand View Research suggests a CAGR of 15% for VR which hardly feels like a new industry, even one that is likely to match those growth claims as the Metaverse evolves. It’s more likely to be the Late Majority now for the Quest Pro. What market leading products do create however is desirability. The so-called Halo effect, where consumers buy things because they have a preference or allegiance to a brand, almost certainly requires cool tech to sell. VR has not gone mainstream, at least not yet. It is arguable that cheaper products offering poorer experiences have hampered its development.

The Metaverse is driving up front with VR now. Even ignoring the glitches and poor user experiences reported in Meta’s own poorly-branded Horizon Worlds, it’s an industry, or maybe platform, that many companies are betting on. I love VR: in the right setting and with the right application, the technology is astonishing at what it can achieve. But will it ever be mainstream?

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