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Grow Your Business Technology

Businesses Bridge the VR Gap to Bring Mixed Reality to Consumers

Credit: Dragon Images/Shutterstock

Augmented and virtual reality hold great promise as technological tools for both commercial and consumer applications. These technologies have been touted as the next big thing since smartphones burst onto the scene. As Oculus' chief scientist, Michael Abrash, said at F8, "VR will be the most immersive way to interact with the virtual world, and it will revolutionize how we work and play."

However, while excitement is high amongst the consumer market, adoption remains rather low. A new study from Worldpay surveyed 16,000 adults across eight countries to find out why AR and VR have yet to gain traction in the B2C (business-to-consumer) space. Here's what Worldpay found in the U.S., as well as some of the insights gleaned about the future of AR and VR for the consumer demographic.

Despite the slow consumer adoption of AR and VR, more than 55 percent of American consumers surveyed told Worldpay they expect these technologies to be as popular as smartphones in the near future. Nearly 70 percent believe the devices will go "mainstream" soon as well. [Will 2017 be the year that mixed reality devices go viral?]

How exactly do these consumers envision using these technologies? Most said they would use AR/VR for experiences like traveling (85 percent), museum and gallery trips (84 percent), and live entertainment events (79 percent). Other popular potential uses include retail and shopping (74 percent) and fully immersive gaming (63 percent).

Previously, VR and AR technologies have been seen as little more than entertainment in the consumer world. Business and industrial uses, like teleconferencing or maintenance and repairs, have long been self-evident; however, use cases on the consumer side were heretofore less apparent. Recognition of these additional consumer use cases have excited the market. Many respondents believe the technology could save them time, connect them with the right products and experience what using a product is like before they buy it. Seeing furniture in your living room before you buy it, for example, provides new context that enhances the purchasing experience.

Still, VR and AR are far from becoming commonplace among the average consumer. The PlayStation VR is the most commonly owned device, behind any smartphone, with 13 percent adoption – not an insignificant number, but certainly far from tapping into the mass market. The HTC Vine and Google Glass followed behind with just 5 percent market penetration.

There are several reasons why adoption among the consumer sector is not more widespread, according to the Worldpay survey. One of the largest barriers to adoption remains a simple lack of access. About 43 percent of respondents told Worldpay they have not used mixed reality products simply because they have not had the opportunity to get their hands on a device. Another 30 percent haven't sought out the technology because they don't understand how it could help in their everyday lives. At this point, mixed reality remains difficult to access and a bit of an enigma to the consumer sector at large.

Here are some other major barriers to entry that survey respondents identified:

  • High cost of VR and AR devices (61 percent)
  • Security concerns, especially when it comes to payment (44 percent)
  • Anxiety regarding the "silly" appearance of using a headset (22 percent)
  • Too complicated to properly use (20 percent)

As the technology improves and becomes more widespread, price points will naturally drop and consumers will become more familiar with using headsets. Concerns about security, on the other hand, must be addressed by software developers; consumer confidence can only be built in this regard as time goes on and VR and AR technologies prove defensible in the face of cyberattacks and hacking.

Consumers are clamoring for businesses to directly offer VR and AR functionality in their physical locations. More than half of consumers said they would like to see physical shops using VR and AR in store. Locally hosted mixed reality solutions would take the onus of cost off consumers, while still offering the shopping experience they are excited about. More than half of consumers said the ability to "visualize and experience" a product in mixed reality would make them more likely to buy it, which represents a competitive advantage for retailers.

On the software development side, consumers commonly said their concerns about security could be alleviated with solutions like fingerprint scanning, multi-factor authentication in the form of passcodes and secret words, third-party payment applications like PayPal and Venmo, and retina scanning to confirm identity.

Still, 39 percent of respondents said they see no clear benefit to using mixed reality products, viewing them more as a gimmick or fun piece of technology than an essential tool. This perspective is likely ingrained more in the fact that mixed reality remains foreign and the use cases have not been made clear to a wide audience just yet.

While the use cases for AR/VR are there – though perhaps not major motivators – consumers remain hesitant to shell out the significant costs for mixed reality devices. As businesses begin to embrace the technology further, consumers might find more opportunities to interact with AR and VR, especially in the retail environment.

Until then, it remains unclear when and how mixed reality will begin to make widespread forays into the consumer sector. The excitement surrounding the possibilities, though, seems to suggest consumer adoption of mixed reality devices is just a matter of time.

Adam C. Uzialko

Adam received his Bachelor's degree in Political Science and Journalism & Media Studies at Rutgers University. He worked for a local newspaper and freelanced for several publications after graduating college. He can be reached by email, or follow him on Twitter.