Oculus has sent the surest signal yet that all is not well with virtual reality (VR) in a move that can only be interpreted as an admission that VR is far from being able to live up to the expectations that have been set for it.
Oculus has updated its policy for its app store that allows a user who is dissatisfied with something that he has purchased in the store to get a no-questions-asked refund. This applies to both Oculus Rift and Gear VR content subject to the following:
- The user can not have spent more than two hours using the content (30 mins Gear VR).
- The application for refund must be made within 14 days (2 days Gear VR).
- The refund does not cover movies or content bought as part of a bundle, although the whole bundle appears to be covered.
This generous policy is an indication that the experience offered by VR is far from satisfactory, which is hurting both hardware shipments and software revenues. Hence, in order to keep interest in the platform and prevent disgruntled users from chucking the device in drawer, it has to offer a sale or return policy that is almost unheard of in software.
It is clear to me that the problems that have plagued VR since its inception are still far from being solved:
Price: Many of the devices cost several hundreds of dollars and also require a PC to run, further increasing the cost. Sony is the one exception, which is why I am pretty sure that it is currently the runaway leader albeit in a very small market.
Clunky: VR and AR units are still large, clunky and uncomfortable to wear. In many cases, they also make the user feel foolish when wearing one.
Comfort and security: VR cuts the user off from almost all sensory inputs from his immediate environment, severely limiting the situations in which the user would feel comfortable using one. Many units also cause feelings of nausea due to an imperfect replication of the real world compared to what the brain is expecting.
Cable: Many units require an HDMI cable, which prevents the user from moving and also increases the risk of a fall should the user trip over the cable.
Content: Both games and content remain in short supply and of poor quality, necessitating the Oculus shift in policy.
The net result is that VR is clearly still far from ready prime time, and there remains a lot of work to do before volumes will really take off. I do not see this happening in 2017, meaning that the outlook for next year remains pretty grim.
This is why I see the likes of Facebook and Apple pivoting their consumer offerings towards viewing and interacting with a virtual world through the camera of a smartphone rather than a head unit. Augmented reality has more problems than VR, but the case for it in the enterprise remains strong. This is because there are immediate productivity benefits to be had from deploying a unit to parts of the work force. And – critically – in the enterprise, one can get away with a poor user experience, because users are paid to have the experience, so they are willing to endure the shortcomings listed above.
The net result is that I think VR will continue to disappoint, with all the action in the short-term remaining squarely in AR.