And, increasingly, large organisations are considering how they can capitalise on the technology. So, with some much interest interest post-CES and Mobile World Congress, should businesses now be investing in VR?
Samsung Enterprise UK&I VP, Graham Long, says it is already happening.
“Virtual reality is not just a consumer play,” he told ComputerworldUK. “There are obvious applications for business.”
VR in the enterprise: What are the use cases?
From a business perspective, VR is essentially just another platform to engage with customers. Where mobile apps allowed for a more personalised digital experience and better communication with customers, VR can build on this through 360 degree video or purpose built apps.
Samsung’s budget Gear VR is just one of a host of virtual reality headsets making their way onto the market. Products range from Oculus Rift and HTC Vive at the higher end, down to Google’s Cardboard, while Microsoft has its augmented reality (AR) HoloLens.
Samsung’s Long says the company has already worked with a number of businesses to create VR systems for their customers. This includes virtual test drives of Audi cars, as well as virtual property tours.
Other potential applications are travel and tourism, says Long.
“If you are Thomas Cook or some of the other travel agents which have bricks and mortar investments, then they have to find ways to get people to come and visit them,” he says. “So if you can go into a physical store do a tour of the cruise ship or the resort you want to go to, it just brings the whole experience to life.”
Another example is in the automotive industry: “If a BMW car dealership has to carry every variant of a car, the 1,2,3,4, 5 and 7 Series vehicles, every engine size and colour variant, you would never have enough space. If you can do that by utilising virtual reality you can have a far more efficient way of doing it.”
The customer-facing use cases are clear, and these are only a few of the huge variety of prospective use cases already noted. See also: Virtual reality and augmented reality: here’s how they could be used beyond gaming
There is also the potential for VR in the workplace too, such as for training or video conferencing. As the enterprise mobility trend highlighted, consumer tech can be pushed quickly into corporate environments by employees themselves.
VR in the enterprise: Should businesses be ready?
Growing interest in the technology has meant that more and more companies are keen to show how they are ahead of the curve by adopting VR within their business.
Forrester VP and principal analyst J. P. Gownder says that many of its clients believe VR needs to be addressed urgently this year. However, he argues that this would be “premature”.
“The vast majority of consumers aren’t there yet, don’t know or care about VR, and won’t know or care in 2016 unless they are hardcore gamers. And only a few forward-looking enterprises – digital predators – are experimenting with VR in effective ways today,” Gownder writes in his blog.
He points out a variety of barriers that must be overcome before there is widespread adoption.
The vast majority of PC owners will need to upgrade their hardware to run VR properly, while free, low-quality products like Google Cardboard could turn off consumers as much as it piques their interest. Lastly, there’s a need for education in the market.
“Most consumers don’t have a deep understanding of VR, nor is there an easy venue for them to learn about it,” writes Gownder.
While consumer uptake is in its early stages, businesses shouldn't ignore VR. It makes sense to trial the technology and see where it could work in future.
The situation is similar to the buzz around wearables last year. Early adopters of the technology – such as Nationwide, the first British bank with a smartwatch app – tended to move slowly, launching pilot projects rather than making major investments.
This can give businesses an idea of how VR can fit into wider digital strategies, and allow developer teams the time to become familiar with the technology.
Gownder advises businesses to take the same approach with VR.
“VR experiments can be conducted on the cheap, starting with B2B2C scenarios in which you provide the device to your customer in a retail setting," he writes.
“But for most of you, please don’t panic and overinvest. You’ve got a few years before VR becomes a top-tier priority.”