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The future, right in front of your eyes 👀 | On the state of Virtual Reality

On My Mind
The future, right in front of your eyes 👀 | On the state of Virtual Reality
By Martin Wiesemborski • Issue #8 • View online
On Wednesday, I visited the VRHAM festival in Hamburg and had a great time with some very impressive VR installations. What better reason to talk on this weeks newsletter a little bit about the state of virtual (and augmented) reality?

VR - The next big thing?
Virtual reality was supposed to be the next big thing. The next major platform, just like personal computers, the internet and mobile phones before - at least according to Mark Zuckerberg when he announced Facebook will buy Oculus for a whopping $2 billion in 2014. But while the technical capabilities of VR goggles and glasses quickly increased, the hype for VR did not.
Mark Zuckerberg at MWC, with journalist plugged into The Matrix
Mark Zuckerberg at MWC, with journalist plugged into The Matrix
From expensive hardware and high requirements for computational power, low-quality screens, annoying cables, a lack of content, a lack of purpose - the reason for the slow adoption are manifold and after the early adopter got their fancy VR-headset, people quickly lost interest.
However, at VRHAM VR flexes its muscles
There was a beautiful little experience about Claude Monet’s series of water lily paintings. While listening to old memories of Monet you see his paintings come to life, brush stroke by brush stroke. The festival’s slogan ‘art like you never experienced it before’ holds up to its promise. You experience how Monet lost his ability to see colors over time and get a much better understanding of his art than just by looking at the finished painting.
CLAUDE MONET - The Water Lily obsession
CLAUDE MONET - The Water Lily obsession
The horrors of war
That VR is a powerful storytelling tool is demonstrated even better by another experience, although in a completely different way. In ‘Home after War’ you witness the unimaginable horrors of war in Iraq. In the immersive experience, which is a mixture of 360-degree photography & scans with inserted video footage of protagonist Ahmaied and additional 360° video footage, you learn about his two sons that were killed by ISIS.
It’s an impressive documentary by Gayatri Parameswaran that leaves you shaken and overwhelmed. It truly shows the impact a storytelling format like this can have in comparison to a ‘normal’ documentary.
Home After War
Home After War
Powerful, yet limited
The VHRAM shows how much content for VR has evolved over the last past years. In the beginning, no one really knew how to tell a story and guide a viewer through it in this new medium. And although both experiences chose completely different ways to do so, they work really well. 
However, one thing they have in common: you experience them alone. It’s an isolated experience. This does not only results in a low visitor throughput at the festival but is one of the biggest issues for VR. Being alone isn’t as fun as a shared experience. 
Breaking the isolation
That’s why the adoption of Augmented Reality is much higher right now. It overlays over reality so you’re not disconnected from it.
Apple (and Google) has been pushing really hard into AR for a couple of years now and they understand that AR is about interactivity and human connection. 
At WWDC this year, they showed an AR version of Minecraft, that two people could play simultaneously in the same room. They could interact with each other, talk to each other and had a great time together. 
It’s especially interesting because Apple’s new disrupting product is rumored to be an AR device. To solve the chicken and egg problem, Apple is providing developers with powerful tools like ARKit and Reality Creator to create AR experiences for iOS that can later be ported over to ‘Apple Glass’. So when they finally introduce Apple Glass, customers will have a big variety of experiences to choose from. 
That there is room for improvement when it comes to AR glasses manifests itself in the billion-dollar hype that is Magic Leap. After building up anticipation for years, they finally released a first hardware version last year. I had the chance to try it out at VRHAM and was very disappointed by it. The field of view is so small that any immersion breaks immediately. 
What I really enjoyed, however, was Oculus Quest, the newly released standalone headset by Facebook. It combines VR with AR elements and comes with two controllers as well. At VRAHM, I played Beat Saber, which is like a mix of Guitar Hero and Fruit Ninja. It was stupendously fun.
I just hope the next version comes with multiplayer.
Visit the VRHAM festival while you still can
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Martin Wiesemborski

I'm a freelance UX strategist. Think of this newsletter as everything that is on my mind (hence the name): New and emerging tech and design trends, tools and ideas that I stumble upon and think are worth talking about.

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Hamburg, Deutschland