Extended reality, or XR, definitely has a role in the future of content. Microsoft’s HoloLens, Facebook’s Oculus Rift, Google’s Glass, Cardboard and Daydream, and Samsung’s Gear are proof that everyone is betting big in this space. No one is going to argue with the vision of those companies and, in a real sense, their work will define the coming landscape.
But as the consumers and users of that technology, our expectations for a revolution are probably seriously overblown and at least misguided. I can’t see XR superseding the storytelling mix we already have. Pushing creative boundaries isn’t about replacing what already works perfectly well.
Does the world really need a new way to teach CPR, when existing videos do it just fine? VR may help underscore the risks of binge drinking, but is it likely to do much more good than other approaches? Look, 360 video is fun, but it isn’t doing much more than traditional film. Headsets are improved but still clumsy. And everywhere, producers are adapting legacy narrative techniques, proving they don’t really know what to do with the medium yet.
Remember that period when we all decided we didn’t want to go to Blockbuster to rent movies anymore, but the infrastructure wasn’t yet there for Netflix to stream direct to your home? In the interim, companies mailed DVDs three at a time and let you keep them as long as you wanted.
That’s pretty much where we are right now with XR: the experimental phase of experiential content. XR accessories are being used as a stopgap; we’re in a holding pattern, sending out proverbial DVDs until the network fundamentally changes.
Basically, immersive technology promises two very different benefits for business: enhancing emotional storytelling and improving functional operations. In both cases, however, it’s not the technology but the content being created that matters most.
To be sure, augmented reality is creeping toward meaningful operational impact. By providing floor staff with Google Glasses, DHL is improving package picking efficiency in their factories by 15 percent. Google Maps teams are experimenting with directions in real-time through your phone’s camera to improve navigation. VW is using a series of virtual reality training modules to increase efficiency in their factories as well. That’s just a taste of what real companies are tinkering with.
But those successes come with an important caveat: They are helping to address human error, or human limitation. To speak the cruelest truth, if you can improve factory efficiency by 15 percent with Google Glasses, you can most likely improve it 100 percent with full automation. Self-driving cars are probably going to solve that Google Maps issue too. The problem these technologies appear to be best at addressing is … people.