Once the wind of the meta-universe blew, VR/AR came alive again. 2014, Meta (then still called Facebook) acquired Oculus, a VR startup company established just 2 years ago, at a price of $3 billion, triggering a market boom; around 2018, because of the technology bottleneck and lack of quality content, VR/AR was slow to find a suitable direction for commercial landing and suffered a “receding fever”. Now Meta is leading the big show again, and VR/AR is taking the commercial imagination to the next level in the context of the grand narrative of the meta-universe.
A report from IDC shows that in 2021, global VR/AR headset shipments reached 11.2 million units, a 92.1% year-over-year surge. This number is still predicted to grow 46.9% in 2022; VR/AR shipments will maintain a high double-digit growth rate in the coming years and exceed 50 million units in 2026. Zuckerberg had said when releasing the collection Oculus VR headset that VR/AR content and ecology would see explosive growth when active users crossed the threshold of 10 million. Now it seems that the moment of qualitative change has arrived. The warming up is also reflected in the capital market. According to Crunchbase data, nearly $3.9 billion flowed to VR/AR startups in the past year, the second highest investment in history; in the fourth quarter of last year alone, global investment institutions invested $1.9 billion, a record high.
Major manufacturers are making frequent moves to seize the next generation of intelligent platforms
Looking back at the past, the emergence of smartphones has led the entire era of mobile Internet. The richness of the content and interaction forms carried by smartphones exceeded those of PC and TV in the past, making the traditional media suffer a huge impact and bringing disruptive effects to all aspects of society.
Now, 14 years after the release of the first generation iPhone, smartphones are bottlenecked in terms of functionality and experience, shipments are declining and the market is becoming saturated. Many believe that VR/AR will be the next generation of super medium and VR/AR devices will be the next smart platform after smartphones. Therefore, it is understandable that the big manufacturers are putting in force and money to fast-track the layout of the track and launch their own hardware and software ecology.
At present, the highest market share belongs to Meta, whose Oculus Quest 2 released in 2020 with superior performance and low price occupies about 78% of the market share. The media reported that Meta also plans to release two AR glasses as early as 2024, including the AR glasses called “Project Nazare”, which does not require a smartphone to work with, but needs to be equipped with a wireless device to assist in computing; the other cheaper AR glasses Hypernova needs to be paired with a smartphone. The Hypernova, a cheaper AR glasses, will need to be paired with a smartphone. According to Meta’s plan, the company will launch AR glasses in 2024, 2026 and 2028.
Google belongs to the representative who got up early and caught up late. 2015 Google Glass ended in a fiasco, leaving valuable lessons for other companies as a pioneer of AR exploration. In early 2022, the media revealed the AR headset project Project Iris, and the product is expected to be listed in 2024 at the earliest. In terms of the B-side market, Microsoft HoloLens dominates. Apple is also constantly rumored to release the news of VR/AR headset. In the near future, domestic manufacturers, Byte Jump has achieved a dominant position in the Asian market with Pico. Xiaomi smart glasses, OPPO’s Air Glass, and Aiki’s Qiyi series glasses currently hold a small market share. In addition, Alibaba, Tencent and other companies entered the VR/AR hardware field by investing in Nreal, Black Shark Technology (plan) and other companies. Even Luo Yonghao also fell in love with this track. In response to the concerns of netizens on Weibo, he mentioned that the future of entrepreneurship should be AR, not that VR meta-universe as defined by Zuckerberg.
VR/AR landing, not just to play games
In terms of landing scenarios, when we mentioned VR/AR in the past, it was nothing but games, audio and video, and entertainment, but in fact, on the enterprise side, the application scenarios of VR/AR are expanding.
Companies led by Meta and Microsoft take virtual office space as an important layout to explore the meta-universe, especially in today’s recurring epidemic and the rise of telecommuting, immersive virtual office experience has become an immediate need for many enterprises.
Accenture, for example, has worked with Microsoft to create a virtual space called “Nth Floor” where employees around the world can meet, speak and work. Every year, about 100,000 new employees join Accenture, and they can be onboarded and trained in the virtual space, and thousands of employees have participated in dozens of events through VR/AR headsets. Accenture also recently purchased 60,000 Oculus Quest 2 units for employee training, the largest enterprise VR headset purchase to date.
VR/AR for corporate training is more than just cool or fun; there is some evidence that this novel approach can really improve the effectiveness of training for companies. One important aspect is that VR/AR training provides a sense of realism, especially for those working in healthcare, services, and other fields, that cannot be met by traditional “role-play” training. Role-playing can easily lead to embarrassment or hilarity, or it can turn into a big stage for theatrical colleagues, and the training effect is often reduced.
A study by PricewaterhouseCoopers found that participants in VR training were 4 times more effective than offline training and 1.7 times more effective than traditional online training; VR trainers were 3.8 times more emotionally engaged in the training than offline training and 2.9 times more emotionally engaged than traditional online training; and after the training, participants in VR training were more willing than participants in the other two types of training to Participants who participated in the VR training were also more willing to practice the training content at work than participants in the other two types of training, with confidence levels 40% and 35% higher, respectively.
In some specific industries, the value of VR/AR training is in the hard skills. Osso VR, a VR company that provides surgical training and assessment services to medical facilities, has done the math. The cost of hosting an offline surgical training session ranges from hundreds to thousands of dollars, so many people have few opportunities to participate in training and even fewer opportunities to learn about rare disease surgery. With VR equipment, medical staff can start training anytime and anywhere, saving costs while practicing in a targeted way to help them improve their operations.
Plant a tree today, take advantage of it in 10 years
In this wave of VR/AR boom, there is no shortage of sings and sans voices. Some people believe that the current VR/AR technology has no essential breakthrough compared with a few years ago, and the technology of chip, sensor and communication is far from “immersion”, so this wave is still a bubble and a new bottle of old wine to cut leeks. Is this really the case?
2018 was the last time VR/AR technology was on Gartner’s Emerging Technology Maturity Curve, and later Gartner officials said that because VR/AR-related technologies were already very mature, they were no longer included, giving way to more new technologies that needed attention. Since then, although VR/AR has demonstrated visible technical progress to the naked eye, there is still room for improvement in terms of terminal experience in terms of image quality, latency, and perceptual interaction, and the lack of killer applications at the content level is still a problem that hinders the popularity of VR/AR devices. However, it takes time to break through these technical barriers and build up a healthy and prosperous ecology of developers and creators.
Zuckerberg said in Meta 2022 Q1 earnings meeting that the efforts invested in VR/AR now will not see results until 2030, 2040. Waiting for VR/AR to blossom, we need a little bit of patience. Not just patience.