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In January, new reports released on Apple’s highly anticipated augmented reality/virtual reality headset. And if what is in these reports is even partially It’s true, Apple is about to give the world (yet again) one of the most stunning, powerful pieces of technology in history – which is why it was a little surprising that this news didn’t make more waves.
This is the same company that allows fans to enter lottery tickets for business keynote addresses! But beyond the usual tech blogs and a few newspaper columns, the future of Apple’s AR/VR device went largely unnoticed.
Of course, Apple isn’t the first company in the virtual space to be disappointed. Facebook has stock plummeted since it first announced its name change to Meta and made a commitment to the metaverse in October 2021. Sony just released one drastic reduction in the projected launch numbers for its PlayStation VR2 headset, dropping the initial forecast by 50%.
And the European Union was roasted on social media a few months ago after spending over $400,000 to stage an event in the metaverse that only drew a handful of deeply disappointed attendees.
So, has the virtual bubble burst?
Nonsense. Virtual is not only here to stay, it is also our future. Here are the top four reasons why people, like it or not, will one day live in a virtual first world.
The most common complaint about virtual reality is that it’s not the same as real life, which is true. But how long before it feels real?
People forget that the first cell phones weighed 5 pounds, lost signal every few blocks, and were so large they had to be carried in suitcases. But these days, we all carry phones that weigh a few ounces in our pockets, that can seamlessly connect via video to almost any person on the planet, and boast more than 100,000 times the computing power of the computer that landed two men on the moon in 1969.
Despite all the incredible achievements in AR/VR, we are still in the ‘mobile phone in a briefcase’ phase. The mysterious valley. But the technology will be here sooner than we think.
How should I know that? Because the companies that are virtually right are richly rewarded.
Look at the success of 19 crimes wine. The company took the standard paper wine label and turned it into a unique experience with the help from AR. Now when consumers see a 19 Crimes bottle on the shelf, they quickly pick up their phone and use the 19 Crimes app to bring the figure on the bottle to life.
Are there wine brands that get more awards and higher rankings than 19 Crimes? Certainly. But that’s not the point. Embracing virtual allowed the brand to take a typical everyday item (a paper wine label) and turn it into an experience, going from 4 million bottles sold to 18 million in just 18 months.
It’s the same principle used by The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios. Universal Studios, the once “short cousin” of Disney World, took everyday items like cream soda and bits of molded plastic and turned them into experiences. Now that cream soda is sold as a “Butterbeer” for $7.99, and that piece of plastic is a $55 magic wand.
Because they started selling a experiencenot just a single ride ticket, presence at Universal Studios jump 20% and sales shot up more than 40% this year.
Younger generations lead a consumer culture that is much more focused on experiences than things, and they are willing to pay a premium for it. As AR/VR technology improves, so will these experiences. Brands will no longer be constrained by time, money and the physics of the natural world.
They are limited only by their imagination.
Did you know 65% of American adults play video games? Or that’s the video game industry five times bigger than the film industry? How about the fact that nearly seven years after the AR sensation “Pokémon Go” first went viral, there are more than $1 billion in annual revenue in both 2020 and 2021, a 45% increase over what the game made in the year it made global headlines?
Video games are already the clearest use case for AR/VR. But in the future, these games will not only be embraced at home. Once companies realize the creativity and innovations they can unlock by immersing employees in virtual worlds, virtual gaming will also become part of our work.
While C-suite executives might turn their noses up at gamers, they’d be short-sighted to do so. Video games encourage many of the behaviors leaders want to see in their employees. Teamwork, communication, problem solving, resilience to failure, innovation, creativity and more. Gamers should use these skills regularly while immersed in their virtual worlds.
Once companies understand this, they will quickly embrace virtual as the future of work.
3. Global warming
From 2003 to 2019, the number of air passengers, and therefore the number of air travel, more than doubled. With this increase, our impact on the planet has also increased. Scientists have estimated that a single passenger’s share of emissions from a flight from New York to Los Angeles is enough to melt 32 square feet of Arctic summer ice, according to The New York Times.
Our travel habits are causing serious damage to our planet. And virtual worlds and experiences are an important part of the solution.
My sister recently went to the ABBA trip concert in London, where virtual avatars perform a 90-minute set, singing, dancing and traversing the stage in a way that incredible Real. My sister even admitted to me that there was a long period of the show where she didn’t even realize it wasn’t the real ABBA. The virtual experience was so good.
With mega reunion concerts all the rage these days, one forgets that a traveling arena show requires dozens of trucks and countless international flights, making it a carbon emissions nightmare. But what if there was a future where fans could experience a great show locally (or even in their living room!) and the bands wouldn’t have to travel at all?
While this may sound ridiculous, remember that the virtual ABBA Voyage concert is more than a billion tickets since opening in May 2022. Considering how quickly this technology has improved, the future for virtual concerts and events (and their role in reducing carbon emissions) looks pretty bright.
There has been no greater glimpse into the future of virtual than during the COVID-19 pandemic. As the world braced against the virus, everything went virtual. Gyms were swapped with Peloton classes. Conference rooms for Zoom. Supermarkets for Instacart.
And these changes were not only short-lived. Recent reports show that major cities like New York are more than losing $12 billion in annual revenue as a result of remote working. People are spending less on restaurants, bars, gyms, salons and shops, and more on goods and services that fit a remote lifestyle.
I have experienced this shift first hand in my own company. Prior to the pandemic, 85% of my speaking engagements were at live, in-person events. But in 2021 I was doing 100% virtual events. In 2022 I snapped back to 70% live and 30% virtual. And now 2023 will be a 50/50 split.
I don’t believe I’ll ever go back to 100% in-person events. While attendees were a little tired after two years of all-virtual events, event organizers are now realizing that the cost savings and convenience of virtual events are hard to beat. In addition, a steady mix of virtual events will help protect the live events industry from future pandemics.
Don’t you think we will see another pandemic like COVID-19? Think again. In the past 40 years alone, we’ve had outbreaks from SARS, H1N1, MERS, Ebola and of course the coronavirus, all just a few years apart. Sure, many of these outbreaks were regional, but humans have battled widespread disease since the dawn of time. And this battle isn’t going away any time soon. So there will always be a need for virtual events and meetings.
We’re all going virtual
Stock prices and bad press aside, why did a company as successful as Facebook change its name to Meta and make a high-risk, public commitment to the metaverse? Why does Apple spend years and countless dollars building an AR/VR device for a category without a proven use case? Why is Disney filing metaverse-related patents and taking on a substantial one? Number of employees to support his new metaverse strategy?
It’s because they believe. And if some of the most innovative, successful companies on the planet believe the metaverse is the future, we should believe it too.
Of course, it may be a few more generations before humans live in a virtual first world. But that world is coming. And we need to prepare ourselves (and our companies) for when the time comes.
Duncan Wardle, former VP at The Walt Disney Company, walks iD8 & innov8.
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