See, feel and experience

With innovations such as Oculus Rift, HoloLens and HTC Vive the time has finally come for Virtual Realityto really begin to make its mark. This opens up new opportunities for every company that is looking for brand new ways to market and launch its products

Virtual reality (VR) enables users to see, feel and experience things that do not actually exist. Let’s say, for example, that you are thinking of building a house. With the aid of technology such as HTC Vive you can get a little box to look like a real house and then walk around on the plot, moving and turning the house to work out the best place to put it, or what the view from the bedroom window will look like.  Are you in the market for a new car, but haven’t yet decided on the colour? Well now, with the help of a pair of HoloLens glasses, you can see what the car in front of you would look like in a different colour or with different accessories. If you are undecided about where to holiday, don an Oculus Rift headset and sample what Tenerife has to offer, or see what it’s like in your destination’s different hotels.  VR is already being used in industry to reduce development costs. It costs less to design something in VR and then test it and make adaptations, than it does to build a real-life prototype. Now, however, a number of new VR technologies are also creating opportunities for other kinds of companies.  

“ These are exciting times... The potential is enormous."

In the first instance these are companies that have previously marketed themselves and their products by using films to communicate a certain kind of sensation. With VR these companies can now offer potential customers experiences they have never had before. “To stand out today you need to give the user a real ‘wow!’ experience. You can do that with VR. It’s an amazing feeling to put on the headset and step into a totally differ-ent world. The contrast between watching a film and experiencing something in VR is as great as that between reading a brochure and watching a film. You get so very much more out of the experience,” says Johan Sanneblad, business developer at HiQ. He looks at how products can be launched and made “real” for customers in revolutionary new ways with the help of virtual reality.  “These are exciting times. The platforms for VR were developed some time ago, but it is only now in 2016 that they are actually coming onto the market. The potential is enormous,” he says.

VR is not really new but until fairly recently the technology was so complex and costly that the areas of application were limited. A simple VR helmet cost tens of thousands of euros and a user could only wear it for a short time before developing a headache or suffering the symptoms of motion sickness. That meant that VR technology was re-stricted primarily to industry and defence ap-plications rather than being developed for ordinary consumers. HiQ has been building VR flight simulators and VR heavy goods vehicles for years in order to help a number of companies rationalise their production processes.

For VR to make a major breakthrough, the technology needed to be better and cheaper. The answer was, to a certain degree, to be found in the rapid technical progress made in the field of mobile phones. The people behind Oculus Rift hit on the idea of using small, inexpensive screens together with advanced computing power to bring VR experiences within the financial reach of ordinary consumers. Oculus began as a crowdfunding project but was soon bought by Facebook for 2 billion US dollars. That kind of financial backing was to prove decisive for the development of VR technology.

One important improvement is a series of ingenious algorithms that ensures a seamless VR experience when users turn their head. Previously the time lag before the VR world “caught up” with the user caused many peo-ple to feel travel sick. These delays have now been eliminated.  Another timely technical advance is the new generation of high-resolution screens. The fact that the virtual world no longer looks like a pixelated computer image plays a big part in authenticating the sensation of actually being present in the VR world.

The first Oculus Rift sets were delivered to ordinary consumers in April 2016. However, the technology has also been used in a vari-ety of mobile solutions. During the half-term school holiday McDonalds in Sweden ran a Happy Meal campaign with cartons that could be turned into virtual reality viewers. Customers simply needed to download an app and then use their smartphone as a screen in the Happy Goggles carton.

For truly astounding experiences, however, somewhat more is still required. “VR in your smartphone is fun, but it’s still rather like watching a feature film on your computer. It works, but it’s not the same as going to the cinema. That’s why I think we still have a few years to wait before VR becomes really big among consumers. That improves the opportunities for companies eager to market themselves with VR to offer customers a truly out-of-the-ordinary experience that leaves them with a real ‘wow!’ feeling,” says Johan Sanneblad.

Published in HiQ Magazine 2016