Last week’s F8 conference is still generating a boatload of excitement, especially over CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s vision of an era without smartphones or televisions. While Zuck is right to believe AR and VR will have an important place in tomorrow’s ecosystem, he may be missing where their replacement value will be. Even worse (and this is uniquely ironic, coming from the world’s largest social network), Facebook is completely missing the intrinsic social need that drives adoption of most high tech products.
The numbers behind virtual reality don’t add up
Zuckerberg hinted at his vision for a post-iPhone, post-TV future by unveiling Facebook’s plans for augmented reality at F8 and was even more explicit in an interview with USA Today, saying, “We don’t need a physical TV. We can buy a $1 app ‘TV’ and put it on the wall and watch it.”
“We all want glasses or eventually contact lenses that look and feel normal but let us overlay all kinds of information and digital objects on top of the real world,” he explained at the keynote, which I was fortunate enough to attend. But while everyone in the audience around me nodded enthusiastically, I squirmed in my chair, resisting the urge to facepalm. There’s little to no evidence many people want augmented reality glasses (let alone contacts!), and copious evidence to the contrary. Consider:
- 3D movies, which require glasses, are declining in interest and admissions.
- 3D televisions, which also require glasses for the full effect, were a giant bust.
- The audience for televisions continues growing every year, locking consumers into a legacy, still-expensive technology.
- Despite heavy promotion and media hype, Facebook’s Oculus Rift and other VR headsets are selling poorly, and their combined sales won’t total the installed base of a single major video game console for many years (if ever).
- Do I even need to mention the utter disaster of Google Glass?
To be sure, Samsung Gear VR, which uses Oculus technology, is doing fairly well. However, many of its 5 million+ shipped units were given away for free, and 5 million is still a fraction of the 100 million or so Samsung smartphones the headset was designed to work with. While Snapchat Spectacles attracted much initial buzz, it’s way too early to know if they actually attract mass market sales. (And being sunglasses, they are explicitly designed for a narrow range of use cases — mainly, while outside — and aren’t ready…
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