Virtual reality technology has come a long way in 20 years. Early advancements like Nintendo's 1995 Virtual Boy and Google's 2007 Street View gave us glimpses into how this technology might advance. Now, in 2016, Facebook's Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive, produced from a joint partnership between hand-held device manufacturer HTC and video game titan Valve Corporation, are the two leading virtual reality headsets currently in market. Sony will release its PlayStation VR later this year. Many other companies, including Samsung and Google, continue to develop solutions that can transform mobile devices into makeshift VR headsets. This current wave of virtual reality devices is so advanced and so immersive that we stand on the edge of major technological and social tectonic shifts that will forever change the way we define our reality. Take note! Virtual reality is the dawn of the Internet, the rise of Web 2.0, and the advent of the smart phone all over again. While we may not see widespread adoption for several years, it will happen. So how can a technology-savvy business prepare?
Modify your design approach when creating content for three-dimensional space. The human body limits the experiences you can design. We are highly visual creatures adept at motion tracking and spatial orientation, so when we receive conflicting visual and spatial cues, our biology often responds with nausea. Have you ever been car sick? It's the same principle. Visually and spatially you are hurtling down the highway, yet at the same time, you are stationary inside the car. Virtual reality experiences must be programmed in a way that tracks head movement exceptionally well. Any other physical motion mapped to a virtual space must also take care to avoid triggering our biology into a bout of severe nausea.
Learn or be prepared to hire three-dimensional art and panoramic photography skills. There are multiple devices available through which to express a virtual environment, but no matter what "canvas" you choose, you will need serious computer modeling and animation skills or specialized equipment that can capture 360 degree images and footage. Because virtual reality is inherently a 3D visual medium, the required production skills will be very similar to those needed for creating a movie or a video game. Forward-thinking enterprises should begin sourcing these skills now before demand jumps.
Incorporate virtual reality as another "device" in your online content's responsive design. Web developers have long adopted responsive design principles when building production-ready websites and applications. It's quite common to visit a website and experience it differently depending on how you arrived. Responsive websites already present online content in the manner best suited for a particular viewing experience (e.g. small mobile screens versus big-screen TVs), so it's no stretch to include virtual reality devices as part of that lineup. There may come a time when users commonly surf the Web using tools like JanusVR expecting an immersive virtual experience different from viewing the same content on a home computer monitor. A business that anticipates and accommodates this trend today will have first-mover advantage.
Virtual reality has finally arrived. You can create a virtual experience built as a software application native to a targeted VR headset; you can build a virtual environment intended for a mobile device; or you can even create a Web-based virtual experience using tools like Mozilla's A-Frame framework. However, while each platform is different, they all enable virtual reality using the same general principles. This technology is now sufficiently advanced to take notice. Nabisco's Oreo brand, the New York Times, and Cochella Music Festival are just a few organizations exploring possibilities in virtual space, and there will be many more as consumer VR adoption moves from the "early adopter" phase into "early and late majority". Technology-savvy companies who prepare now are the ones who stand to gain the most when the tsunami hits.