Future gazing to 2026: VR a decade after Oculus Rift's consumer launch

The creative director of Framestore's VR Studio imagines a time when the technology has completely transformed work and home life

March 28, 2016. This is the date Oculus Rift’s long-awaited and much-anticipated consumer headset became available to the world. The day marks a seminal point on the virtual reality (VR) timeline. So seminal, it got me wondering where we’ll be in ten years time.

To look forward, it helps to first look back. All the way back to the 1990s: Nintendo launched its debut hand-held game device. Cern announced it won't charge for its new mass communication service (aka the web). Adobe Photoshop 1.0 was released (no sunset photo will ever be the same again). And the wider world was introduced to the concept of VR, courtesy of the prescient movie, "Lawnmower Man."

Fast forward to 2016 and it feels like "game-changing" tech is launching every week. But, just occasionally, something cuts through and fundamentally changes everything. In the 90s, Gameboy’s little grey bricks sparked portable gaming. Today, VR is destined to have the same impact.

VR has been the talk of gaming and advertising for a couple of years already. But things are hotting-up now that consumers can access headsets. It’s no wonder the industry is growing fast: Goldman Sachs suggests the combined hardware and software market for VR and AR will reach on a base case $80 billion by 2025, with a potential to reach more than $180 billion. 

But, beyond gamers and forward-thinking marketers, who will use VR? There’s not currently enough compelling content to justify the headset price tag and associated upgrades. So mainstream use isn’t imminent. VR will replicate today’s smartphone ubiquity only once people identify an everyday, truly useful purpose. Rest assured, this day will come.

In fact, we’re already well on our way to VR becoming something we can’t live without. There are now mind-bending VR theme park rides. Sports broadcasters are using VR to bring fans even closer to the action. Engineers, architects and developers are using VR as computer-aided design to step inside their creations before they’re even made. Innumerous healthcare ‘miracles’, like curing phobias and PTSD, are becoming a reality thanks to VR.

Virtual museums and theatres are radically enhancing the visitor experience. VR is educating the world via global virtual classrooms and ultra engaging learning experiences. Space and scientific research is leaping forward by delivering previously unreachable worlds a la NASA’s Mars Immersion. And VR’s empathy-inducing quality is being maximized by filmmakers and journalists to combat complacency about disasters and wars.

If all this is happening just two years into the birth of contemporary VR, what will happen in the next 10? VR technology is at a tipping point where past limitations are finally being conquered. If this trajectory continues, VR will bless us with superpower-like capabilities we never thought possible

So in 2026, I imagine a world where …

VR ownership will hit 90% of households. With home use ranging from gaming, entertainment, education, health and news, VR will become the most quickly adopted consumer technology in the history of the world.

New Realities will transform human communication and interaction. Artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR) and VR will merge into an all-powerful new dimension that’ll be greater than the sum of its parts. Information will be tailored to our needs and desires, responding in real-time and constantly evolving to help us realize our full potentials. IBM Watson will be everywhere; an early taste of the AI-dominated era to come.

Entertainment will never be the same again. We will be fully immersed in virtual films, news, journalism, documentaries and games. New genres will emerge, and VR MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online) will see millions of subscribers playing together in a borderless, virtual world. TV screens will become redundant. Streamlined headsets will seamlessly integrate with our lives, like popping on a pair of specs. If you don’t believe me, perhaps you’ll believe Zuckerberg instead. He says VR headsets will look like Ray-Bans in 10 years

Location will become immaterial. Kiss goodbye to the office and virtually interact with colleagues instead. Social "work" experiences will allow business to connect, collaborate and build together seamlessly. Similarly, educational institutions will no longer need bricks and mortar. Tedious commuting will become a thing of the past.

A new way to socialize. If Facebook has anything to do with it (and it does!), VR will fundamentally change the way we socialize by giving us the ability to meet in the virtual, rather than physical, world. Doom mongers see this as final proof of the end of the world as we know it. But we’re a fundamentally social species and VR will merely help shape our evolution.

So, on March 28, 2026, I see myself crafting VR concepts for a vast spectrum of brands whilst connected to colleagues from the comfort of my own home. I’ll be addicted to an intuitive information source called Watson. I’ll wind down by meeting friends in a virtual destination of our mutual choosing. And we’ll probably be chuckling about the giant, clunky and antiquated helmet that was Oculus’s debut Rift.

Resh Sidhu is creative director of Framestore’s VR Studio.

The Virtual Reality Report

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