Virtual reality is quickly becoming a prominent battleground among major tech companies whose boundaries have dissolved as they expand their scope.
Considered by many in the tech industry to be the next computing platform, VR now falls within the domain of behemoths including Facebook and Google, in addition to — potentially — Apple, Amazon and Snap Inc.
For now, among the key competitors in the race to be at the front of the line when VR becomes mainstream are Google and Facebook, which also lead the front in digital advertising dollars. If augmented reality is added to the equation, then Snap Inc. and its video-capturing glasses Spectacles gain a horse in the race.
The standing might become slightly more in focus today, as Alphabet-owned Google will share its annual earnings with shareholders, who will be sure to listen for mentions of Google’s latest investments into producing both VR hardware and content, as this will be the first update since the company’s VR headset became available.
This comes just days after Facebook chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg made comments that indicated that virtual reality has not yet lived up to its potential and that Facebook would invest even more than anticipated in seeing VR become a more widespread reality.
In testimony during a lawsuit between Facebook-owned Oculus, a VR company, and ZeniMax Media over accusations that Oculus had stolen some technology, Zuckerberg said it would take up to $3 billion more in funding and 10 more years of development before VR achieved the vision he had for it, which is providing hundreds of millions of people with access to VR.
In a November call with Wall Street, Zuckerberg extolled the ability of virtual reality to “help people experience the world in richer and more immersive ways” and that he believes the next phase of VR is great software experiences. He promised to invest $250 million in virtual reality content on top of what had previously been invested.
Google, for its part, has released two VR headsets designed to be accessible to the everyman, starting with the $15 Google Cardboard, which was followed most recently by the Google Daydream View, a $79 fabric-covered headset. This is in addition to multiple sponsorships to produce VR content, such as a holiday window display project and a Rag & Bone documentary. Experts tend to agree that, bulky headsets notwithstanding, the lack of valuable content is the barrier to widespread adoption.
VR headsets, which plug into a computer or use a smartphone to display content, have not lived up to the hype that greeted them in 2016. Although the $100-or-so Samsung Gear VR headset was one of Amazon’s best-sellers in the wearable-tech category this holiday season, VR experiences and headsets have not become commonplace. But that could just be a matter of more time (and money).
According to market intelligence firm International Data Corp., more affordable VR devices, including the Daydream View, will lead the market in terms of shipments and media attention. Tom Mainelli, who is IDC’s program vice president of devices and AR/VR, predicted that in the next 12 months, there will be a growing number of hardware vendors offering a range of products.
According to IDC, the predicted shipments of AR and VR headsets would see a compound annual growth rate of 108 percent by 2020, reaching 76 million units.
Google ceo Sundar Pichai in an October earnings call said he couldn’t “wait to see all of the incredible experiences that developers will build on Daydream,” adding, “We also think there’s an opportunity for us to more deeply integrate software and hardware together to deliver great experiences that we hope will also contribute to future innovation and development of the ecosystem.”