It's that time of year again! From next Monday (February 27) through March 2, 2017, Mobile World Congress (MWC) will take place in Barcelona. I attended this event (then 3GSM) for the first time in 2005 and it is fascinating to see how the event has morphed from a B2B telecoms technology trade show to one of the largest business conferences around the globe. This year’s MWC theme is “The Next Element” which may seem broad but I quite like this idea that mobile is elemental and has become part of our daily lives. By analogy with the previous industrial revolution, mobile is like electricity: once you have access to it, it is a disruptive enabler of adjacent technologies powering more powerful innovation. Mobile is barely entering its teenage years.
Consumers now use mobile as a sixth sense. If the human senses serve as effortless faculties through which we access information on the world around us, then mobile has become the sixth sense. It brings digital to consumers in their daily lives. It has truly become the face of digital. That’s the main challenge for marketers: as mobile becomes the primary interface between your brand and your customers, you must leverage mobile to accelerate digital transformation and transform the customer experience you deliver. A lot has to happen behind the scenes for marketers to be able to deliver real-time contextual experiences on mobile. That’s why it makes a lot of sense for marketers to spend time in Hall 8.1 where most marketing, advertising and app vendors will be gathered.
Virtual Reality generates lots of buzz and massive investments. Isn’t it the next computing platform according to Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg? Hasn’t Magic Leap - the most secretive start-up- raised up to $1.4 billion to deliver on that promise?
Together with my colleague Samantha Merlivat, we decided to evaluate the opportunities VR will open up for marketers. In the next decade, we believe that unlike any channel to date, VR will offer highly immersive and intimate experiences with a future integrated with social and IoT. This unique combination will create not just new storytelling capabilities, but also opportunities to craft whole new experiences as part of the brand offering. Companies like Facebook are betting on VR to fulfill the dream of what Second Life tried to achieve in 2007: enabling social interactions and gatherings within virtual spaces. Moving forward, VR will be enhanced by sensory devices that increase the immersive and realistic nature of virtual experiences and transition the users from passive participant to live actor. Think of it as “human teleportation”.
We’re not there yet. Let’s look at the facts. Magic Leap has not launched anything yet and TechCrunch is right to question its PR approach. Device penetration is still niche and will remain so for a couple more years. Content costs are high and production is complicated. Forrester estimates that critical-mass consumer adoption of high-end VR headsets is at least five years away. In the meantime, 360 video content will flourish on low-to-mid-end VR devices, but 360 video is not a truly immersive VR experience. Benefits for brands and consumers alike are limited.
Moonlighting as a contributor to our CMO role's research, I've just published a major new report about how virtual reality will affect marketers, collaborating with Forrester's lead on digital disruption, James McQuivey, PhD.
CMOs and other marketers have four choices when it comes to virtual reality (VR). Most of you should wait and see, because there's no business imperative to invest scarce time and resources in VR this year. But there are three other choices available to digital predators – that is, CMOs at companies that want to shape trends, not follow them:
Crawl – The Coachella music festival went a step beyond providing an event app: they handed out thousands of cardboard VR headsets to attendees. Since festival-goers can't be everywhere at once, they can catch shows that happened on other stages, extending and rounding out the benefits of attendance. They recognized that consumers don't yet own their own VR devices, so they gave them out as part of the experience to deepen engagement.
Since Mobile World Congress, where the reality on the show floor was often either virtual or augmented, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the practical uses of AR and VR – particularly in government and a smart city context. It’s not just all fun and games, is it?
The example of changing a roller coaster experience with new settings delivered via VR glasses is really cool. Yes, you can imagine repeating the ride to experience catapulting through medieval battle, flying through a tropical jungle, or bobsledding down alpine slopes. But the practical side of us – or at least me – wants to know what else there is. And, fortunately, I have a colleague who has already been thinking of these things.
A few months ago, I had the pleasure of collaborating with JP Gownder on a presentation for Forrester clients in Geneva. I presented on the ways to derive value from data and opportunities to leverage new insights service providers – clearly something top of mind for many of our clients. But alas JP’s presentation was much cooler, providing examples of how to derive real value from new technologies including AR and VR. Since then I’ve being thinking about how the two are related. And, in fact, they are.
April 12, 2016: The day Oculus updated its Rift shipment timeframe for customers. As has been widely reported, Oculus customers face widespread months-long delays in the deliveries of their virtual reality headset purchases. To add a personal anecdote, I ordered within the first 5 minutes of the pre-launch window (once the web site started working, which it didn’t at first), and my Rift shipment has been delayed from March 30th to “between May 9 and 19th,” assuming Oculus actually succeeds in meeting its new dates.
While my personal Rift delay is merely an annoyance, the botched launch has real repercussions for the VR ecosystem. Oculus’ delay:
Hurts developers of games and apps. The diversity and depth of the VR developer ecosystem is impressive. While many developers focus on games – logically enough, since that’s a key early adopter demographic – others offer applications ranging from clinical treatments for PTSD to collaboration in virtual spaces. The common denominator? None of these developers are making money if there are no headsets available. And while many apps can be ported to other platforms, Oculus has been the centerpiece of many developers’ high-end VR efforts.
Hurts media startups and innovations. Media, too, sees a potential loss. While some media companies go the route of the New York Times and focus on Google Cardboard phone-based VR, others are counting on developing truly immersive experiences that simulate presence. Studio Jaunt VR has an Oculus app that, again, won’t be addressable until customers receive their Rifts.
If you're one of my regular readers, you may remember a post from August 2015 – "The Future Of Retail Is Digital" – in which I highlight key findings from a report on the future of retail experience. One recommendation was that retailers should begin to experiment with augmented and virtual reality technology early, so that potential use cases can be piloted in-store. Well this week, Microsoft announced a partnership with Lowe's to demonstrate the viability of Microsoft's Hololens to help Lowe's customers visualize custom kitchens.
While VR/AR is a long way from widespread market adoption (see this March 16 post by J.P. Gownder), the time needed to pilot and experiment with this technology means tech and CX teams in retailers need to be piloting use cases now in order to figure out what, if any, business impact the technology will have. (See also my comments from CES 2016).
AR and VR technologies aren't new. Virtual reality first experienced a boom of interest in the early 1990s, spurred by the 1991 book Virtual Reality by Howard Rheingold. In 1995, Angelina Jolie starred in the movie Hackers, which introduced mass audiences to head-mounted VR display technology. But the early promise of the technology fell apart due to underperforming graphics, attention-jarring lag times, outlandish hardware requirements, and the lack of an application ecosystem. No VR market emerged (outside of niche categories like military usage) until Facebook acquired the Kickstarter startup Oculus for $2 billion in March, 2014.