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June 1, 2012

Virtual reality takes a major leap forward

Posted by Vikram Vij (View Profile | View All Posts) at 10:17 AM


A sea change in computing - perhaps one of the biggest ever - occurred 17 months ago when Microsoft introduced Kinect as an interface with the Xbox game console.  By introducing the concept of using gestures and spoken commands to navigate screens and direct the actions of characters, Kinect truly ushered in the world of virtual reality to the casual gamer.  It's no surprise that Kinect set a Guinness World Record for the "fastest-selling consumer electronics device" when eight million units were shipped in just two months.

As technology advances, these new devices are becoming more experiential and "intelligent."  What's next?  It's anybody's guess, but I'd venture that 3D is widely recognized as the next big thing in entertainment and is expected to become the standard.  Smart marketing and lower prices will ramp up sales and introduce new users to all the fun.  Interactive movies in your living room will just be a starting point.  

Well, our kids are happy about this (and so are the adults - the ones still young at heart), but are there practical applications for business lurking somewhere in these adventures?  I think so.  Combining new devices and user experiences are likely to have a transformative effect on industries like retailing and will have far reaching implications for consumer branding. 

Augmented reality - providing a 3D virtual layer on top of reality - is just beginning to emerge from the gaming environment into new apps for shopping and other uses.  Here's a good example.  A lot of us look at shopping for new clothes as more of a drudge than anything else.  While it's nice to look and feel good in the latest styles, trying on the clothes to get the right fit can take a lot more time than many of us care to spend.  With augmented reality, users can view themselves in alternate spaces.  Click on "dressing room with mirrors" for the new suit.  Or "playground hoops" for those spiffy basketball shorts.

It will take some time to gain traction.  A while back there were lots of big businesses tripping over each other to establish a virtual store, or at least a presence on Second Life.  (Relax. You're forgiven if you don't remember.)  I think augmented reality holds a greater potential than prior attempts at branding in a purely virtual world. 

The implications for branding from these new device interfaces and applications are enormous.  Insert your brand logo in a semi-virtual world.  Let users interact with your virtualized product and services in ways that are fun and engaging.  And, time saving for those of us who don't have time for the brick-and-mortar option (or just hate shopping).

Location based services, social networking, mobility provide even more opportunities to extend beyond an innovative interface and provide real value.  The user experience can also be enhanced through promotions and special offers.  For example, creative retailers can offer discounts for the first adopters for a given product that actually takes time for a consumer to make a decision to buy.  Make shopping a "competitive sport?"  Why not?

Who knows?  This could be the thing that drives adoption of mobile payments and the next wave of cutting edge user experiences.  We're only at the early stages of applying new and creative ways to apply these capabilities.  Let the games begin!  Oh, they already have.

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