Are you prepared for the second coming?

Although the term ‘virtual reality’ wasn’t coined until 1987, by the early 90s VR was on a roll – and those of you with as many grey hairs as me will remember the clunky headset experiences that popped up in high street gaming arcades.

A quarter of a century later and virtual and augmented reality is all the rage again. In the last few years there has been so much hyperbole surrounding the future potential of augmented and virtual reality that it can be hard to distinguish reasonable expectations from unadulterated bull****.

Almost every week a new market analysis report appears, with staggering predictions about what the global AR and VR markets will be worth in the next five to 10 years.

With Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Samsung, Sony, HTC and Apple – to name a few – all investing heavily in either AR or VR or both, the revolution is already well underway.

So should you be taking up arms or running for the hills?

AR and VR can provide truly amazing, liberating, deeply engaging and sometimes business-changing ways in which you can build deeper relationships with your customers but you need to be clear about what you want to achieve and why.

The point is that in the early stages of any technology the hardware is usually way ahead of the content and when the content isn’t there, then neither are the users. This leads to what Gartner’s now famous hype cycle describes as the ‘peak of inflated expectations’.

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Gartner's Hype Cycle

And if you’re not careful, an ill-conceived foray in to AR or VR will almost certainly leave you in the ‘trough of disillusionment’.

For these reasons it is vitally important that the content you deliver is meaningful, pleasurable and accessible.Meaningful because anything else is just technology for technology’s sake.

It is a fairly safe assumption that for the majority of users, engaging with AR or VR content will be a new, or fairly new, experience. Putting on a headset or viewing a digitally manipulated world via the screen of a mobile device is a change from ‘normal’ behaviour.

You need to ask, ‘Does the perceived benefit of engaging with your content outweigh the friction of the change in behaviour?’ If it doesn’t then you are not providing a meaningful experience that adds value to your proposition.

Interacting with augmented, mixed or virtual reality scenes can be immensely rewarding, allowing you to view the world in new and surprising ways. I love watching new users gasp in appreciative awe when they experience VR or AR for the first time.

Eliciting this kind of response provides lasting value, creating a deep connection with your content, and is fiendishly hard to do with almost any other medium.

In the next two to three years we will see the widespread use of consumer-ready, mixed reality headsets that allow you to view the real world, augmented with computer generated content. Microsoft’s Hololens already does this but the unwieldy headset and hefty price tag of around $3,000 limits its use. Meanwhile the much vaunted and heavily funded Magic Leap promises to revolutionise the way we see the world but its plans are shrouded in secrecy.

Then there is Apple. CEO Tim Cook recently said: “I regard it as a big idea, like the smartphone. The smartphone is for everyone... I think AR is that big, it’s huge. I get excited because of the things that could be done that could improve a lot of lives.”

Expect the iPhone 8 to expose the first public face of Apple’s investment in AR and, no doubt, disrupt the market in the same way that the first iPhone did.

Right now, thousands of companies, across all sectors, are finding ways in which to use these emerging technologies to transform their businesses. Some of the most compelling examples can be found in the health, training and education sectors where lives are being changed by experiences that are ‘meaningful, pleasurable and accessible’.

Just as in the early days of the web, when companies wanted a website simply because everyone else had one, costly mistakes will and are being made by companies that rush headlong to greet ‘the second coming’.

But if you are prepared, and understand that technology is a means and not an end, then now is the time to discover the massive opportunities that AR and VR presents.