It’s October 2016 and PlayStation are about to release something wonderful.
There are many parallels between the rise of VR and the rise of the smart phone. We can look back at how the smart phone industry developed and see with a staggering degree of clarity around how the future of VR will pan out.
I have always been an early adopter of technology. Maybe my parents didn’t lavish enough toys on me as a child, or – I will be honest, the more likely explanation- I was a spoiled brat who always liked to play with the latest shiny thing.
In 2001, I was working as a security consultant for the UK government. I came into the office with my latest shiny toy – a Compaq Ipaq. The Compaq Ipaq was one of the first devices that looked like the smart phones of today; a candy bar design, a lite linux operating system, bright colour backlit display with a non-capacitive screen )requiring a pen to operate), wifi, apps and games. It was revolutionary and quickly my colleagues followed suit. We were mocked a little as we always had our eyes focused on these bright squares of light, updating our “Friends Reunited” profiles. People found our obsession with these devices amusing, little did they know that the drug would get them soon. Geeks like me enjoyed having the newest tech, we didn’t mind that it wasn’t completely ironed out, that the apps would crash, that the battery life was around about 2 hours. It was amazing and bleeding edge. 2004 saw me move to the Sony Ericsson P900 and it was clear that there was a plethora of smart devices out there, blackberry, palm pilots, etc.
The market was new, it was a blue sea and all the fishing boats were out.
Then in 2007 Apple did something a little unexpected, they released the iPhone and – as far as the rest of the world was concerned – invented the smart phone… again. As someone who had been using something closely resembling an iPhone for the previous 6 years I was a little nonplussed to say the least.
In retrospect the disordered muddled mess of smart devices prior to the iPhone release was just a period of prototyping. The market started to settle on what a smart phone should be and when those planets finally aligned the risk for a company like Apple reduced to zero. The analysts hit the button, the R&D departments spun into action and out popped the iPhone, nobody cared if it was good or bad, it was shiny and according to the adverts made you look “cool” and possibly attractive to the opposite sex.
The market was saturated, the sea turned red with the blood of the fish and the smaller boats were taken into the harbours and broken up.
The iPhone was a storming success. As I assess the VR industry today I can see the parallels between Apple and Sony and realise how important the launch of PlayStationVR is for the VR industry.
Sony have been sitting in the background while HTC and Facebook took the big risks, HTC out of desperation to save a failing company, Facebook to distance themselves from being a one-trick pony under the scrutiny of their investors. When I think about Sony’s observations of the VR industry it seems appropriate to quote H. G. Wells –
…this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. With infinite complacency men went to and fro over this globe about their little affairs, serene in their assurance of their empire over matter.
Sony knew they had the pedigree, capability, talent (and frankly speaking a working distribution network) to make VR a complete and flawless success, but Sony were never going to be the fools rushing in. They understood that they could benefit from the risks of others and market to their massive network of adoring fans who would look at PSVR in the same way people looked at the iPhone – as something newly invented and amazing.
This is the part where we early-adopters need to suck it up and get with the program.
Beyond fact that the product is excellent, it is critical to keep in mind that PlaystationVR has to be a success and regardless of tribal HMD preference, we should support and not marginalise what is a solid product that will rocket Virtual Reality into the mainstream. We – the community – owe it to everyone, who have not experienced the joy of VR, not let fanboyism undermine PlayStation’s fore into the metaverse.
Sadly the PlaystationVR knocking has started already. The PC master race has a new breed of bearded & tight-trousered individuals; PC Master Hipsters if you will. These contemptible rouges want everyone to know that it was THEY who liked VR before it was cool and this upstart Sony should not be bringing potato powered VR to the plebeian masses! How dare they. Admittedly I still feel similar pangs of hate when I see people staring at their iPhones.
What would the mobile phone space look like today if Apple crashed and burned. What is Sony fails. Investors would see VR as a risk, the industry would slow, perhaps to a stop as it has done on previous iterations. Be part of the movement and not part of a problem and for goodness sake don’t kill the thing you love for the sake of corporate alliances. That’s not cool my bearded friend, not cool at all.
So let’s all love VR, enjoy the technology as it appears, both in massive bleeding edge quantum leaps and more budget devices with mass market appeal. They all have their place, they are all fantastic in their own right, and who are we to stop progress.
For those who are interested, I tried the device and Playstation VR is comfortable, light, highly adjustable, it can easily accommodates glasses, it is well built, the optics are better than Vive or Rift, the field of vision feels a lot bigger because of the lens positioning, the screen is slightly lower res but the lack of Fresnel lenses and addition of Sony’s custom-made display mean that it’s staggeringly clear and with virtually no screen-door effect. It’s potato powered (I’m joking my PSN brothers) but I am sure even PlayStation 4 owners will look at some of the “low poly” titles and compare it to a PS2, but they are – of course – missing the point entirely. My only concern is around Playstation Move as a hand tracking controller, it cannot be good enough. But then again – it is only speculation that move will be the final solution. Maybe after assessing the risk PlayStation will bring out an Oculus Touch equivalent. Who knows? PlayStationVR is fantastic and if I didn’t have 3 kids and a mortgage I would be sorely tempted to buy one. Let’s see what Santa brings me, and by Santa I mean my Wife, to be clear she is not Santa.
My final thought & topic for discussion, stretching the comparison maybe too far, is monitor gaming the “feature phone” of old, will it will be killed by Augmented and Virtual reality over the next 5-10 years?
Write your thoughts in the comments below, I would love to hear from you.
P.s. If some of you are thinking, “HEY you are UKRifter, that guy that always says the Rift is better than the Vive, you bloody hypocrite.”. Well, yes, I suppose you have a point, please do as I say and not as I do 😉
by Christopher Gray aka UKRifter
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In my YouTube video below I discuss my thoughts from this article in a more rambling, bumbling and half arsed way.