Last month I spent some time with more than 150,000 people from 140 countries at CES 2015 in Las Vegas. There were over 3,600 exhibitors spread out across several venues. I had the privilege to see and speak with many of them.
As I drove back home through the California desert, and in the weeks since, I’ve reflected on some of the things I experienced. To name just a few that are top of mind as I write this post:
- I drove a remote control car with just my thoughts
- I controlled a computer just by looking at where I wanted to interact with it
- I shot a basketball that told me the exact trajectory and ball rotation in real time, while knowing whether it went in the basket or not.
- I saw a consumer grade USB device that captured and stored DNA
- I experienced a 360 degree virtual world in 3D that felt so real, I continued to try and touch it, even though cognitively I knew it really “wasn’t there”.
My purpose for attending CES, however, was not just to “geek out”, but primarily to see and try and understand what the world might look like 3, 5, or 10 years from now, and help my clients and readers help to prepare for the coming changes.
I came back with several observations that I’ll be sharing in future posts, but one main theme that I walked away convinced of was that the the future of experiences are immersive.
This may have been said before, but this is now taking on a new meaning. Curved TVs and screens transform the traditional 2D flat screen experiences and help us feel more like “we’re there”.
There is a difference between watching a football game on TV, and actually being on the field. There’s a difference between watching a screensaver of a waterfall and standing at the base of one. New technology will aim to narrow the gap between theses experiences.
Samsung unveiled its “glasses free” 110 inch 8K 3D TV. (LG also showcased a 98″ version). While not quite commercially ready yet, it seems like these will be in the mainstream in 5-10 years. Embedded smart TV technology hints that not only will huge immersive screens be incredibly rich for the senses to consume, but they’ll also likely be interactive, potentially allowing for sharing, more real time personalization, and perhaps even “choose your own adventure” media experiences. Consider the impact of these realities on brand marketers and advertisers.
But even with all of these rapid advances in TV technology (4K TVs have barely hit the market), it’s still very clear to users that there is a distinct difference between the world that the individual is in, and the world behind the TV screen.
Here’s where the domains of virtual reality and augmented reality change all of that. Virtual reality, augmented reality and virtual worlds have been around for at least 50 years. Evangelists have been hyping the coming advances just around the corner for a long, long time and I want to be careful of falling into that trap. There is a lot that I don’t know about this world.
However, I do know that my experience with the Oculus Rift Crescent Bay prototype was remarkable.
— Brian Vellmure (@BrianVellmure) January 7, 2015
In tech circles, we often hear “anything is possible”. The experience for me extended the boundaries of what’s possible, by long margins.
In marketing, the old mantra is “location, location, location”. Location has always been bounded by the physical world. The internet and world wide web extended those constraints, kind of. The immersive world of virtual reality allows for an unlimited array of virtual real estate, in any form, constrained only by designer’s imagination and ability to create/render. The experiences I had were impressive, considering that this technology won’t even be released until late 2015. If this was the alpha version, the rendering when this hits the mainstream will be indescribable.
The immediate response for many reading this may be to constrain these advances only to the world of gaming as its the obvious pathway, given Oculus’ history. But gaming is just a beachhead. The potential for brands, corporations, universities, manufacturers, militaries, governments, and ultimately everybody to create virtual worlds, and allow interactions and transactions to take place within them and between them are sincerely only limited by imagination, the cost to create them, and the capabilities to build and extend this new ecosystem. As we’ve seen with the advances of blogs, YouTube, and Instagram, the cost to create should continue to plummet (at an exponential pace)
The technology, as it matures, appears that it will allow for unlimited worlds, unlimited experiences, and unlimited array of mixing, matching, sharing, and interactivity.
For most, this is prohibitively expensive today. But, just as we’ve seen the cost of processing a human genome go from over $100 million in 2001 to under $1,000 today, we’ll see prices come down as the ecosystem grows and processing power gets cheaper.
Undoubtedly, it will also open up new questions about privacy, addiction, health, identity, and even get to the core of human existence. Will it ever become viable enough where the boundaries between real and virtual become indiscernable? I’m not sure, but I can imagine us getting in there in 20 years.
What does this mean?
I am convinced that organizations must widen their view of what “customer experience” means. As we’ve seen the progression of short text, to long text, to images, and video, expect that over the next decade, the media that we interact with will be more immersive. Marketers must consider drastically new worlds of content creation, as what’s possible is about to explode by tenfold.
More immersion = more engagement = more data –> which requires that organizations and marketers respond in ever richer ways informed by ever deepening contextual awareness. I am looking forward to exploring and somehow participating in these emerging landscapes.
Augmented Reality – the blending of virtual and physical worlds
And if all that weren’t enough, we haven’t event discussed augmented reality yet. For those unfamiliar with the term, it means that while operating in the physical world, computer generated graphics, images, or information help to add to, or mediate the experience.
Examples include seeing distance information or directions to a store nearby, data about objects in the near vicinity, information about people within the field of view, or technical instructions for field service workers.
Augmented reality, like virtual reality, is also inevitable, but appears to be a harder nut to crack than either of the first two advances towards more immersive experiences (TV and VR).
We are born into the physical world and are experts at navigating it. We can learn to be experts in a virtual world. It’s distinctly different. Bringing the physical and virtual worlds together, however, has many more variables associated with it, and all sorts of unanswered questions:
- What’s the ideal technology?
- How do we integrate it with our current lives, devices, and culture?
- How do we attach data and processing to a local device? <-- ask this across thousands of use cases and personas
- How do we not sacrifice the physical experience by bringing new elements in?
In my opinion, there is a lots of work to do here. I tried prototypes from Sony that gave eyeglass wearers translucent directions to a store nearby. I also witnessed a vehicle repair prototype from Bosch. Both illustrated potential, but the user experiences were not easy nor beneficial enough…yet.
In no way, is this a knock on the vendors themselves, but simply data points from an industry in its early stages. Vuzix, Google, and myriad others are working at making this experience better. It is sure to come, but there seems to be a longer road to commercial success here than with the other domains, since it involves the convergence of so many disparate elements simultaneously.
In future posts, we’ll explore these and other themes more fully. We are living in an exciting time.
IMG CREDIT: Gizmodo