As time goes by it becomes more and more difficult to predict future trends. Back in 1920 it was fairly easy to predict where technology would likely be in say 1930, but if you were to step back to 2006 and predict where things would be in 2016, more than likely you would have gotten a heck of a lot wrong. Tablets, smartphones, smartwatches, the cloud, VR/AR, self-driving electric cars, and all those goodies may have missed the cut, and as time goes by the rate of progress speeds up and the future becomes quite a bit less clear. Sure we can all make a fairly accurate prediction as to where the VR/AR space will be in 12-18 months, but once the time horizon expands past a couple of years that window into the future becomes incredibly cloudy. Despite this, I’m going to take a look at several areas of the VR/AR space and predict what the industry may look like in the year 2026.
Envision the brick-like mobile phones of the late 90’s. This is likely what your current available VR headsets like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive will remind us of come 2026. Headsets will shrink considerably allowing for not only portable devices, but also the ability for companies to offer smartphones, which also can be standalone headsets by themselves. Without a doubt Apple will eventually enter this space, sparking tremendous innovation, and likely increasing the adoption rate of virtual reality two-fold in a matter of six months. Apple is known for their minimalistic designs, and thats just what we can expect out of Cupertino, coming in the latter part of this decade within the VR space. As we move further into the early part of the next decade, more affordable and energy-efficient battery technology will drive forward the miniaturization of VR headsets and smartphones considerably.
Besides the obvious decrease in the size of our VR headsets, a smorgasbord of sensors and cameras will be integrated into these headsets, not only allowing for exponentially superior head-tracking, but also the ability to track ones extremities such as hands and feet along with those objects surrounding the user. While gloves and controllers will not be required for hand-tracking any longer, if users wish to experience haptic feedback, light weight gloves will become the norm.
While not quite ready for 2026, companies will already be working on direct retina projections in order to allow for visual effects which are even more believable. Additionally, research will be moving forward in areas which could eventually lead to direct computer to brain interfaces, providing for a multi-sensory experience. While prototypes of such devices may be available by 2026, it won’t be until the 2030’s when such technology will be available to the public.
One thing that’s already clearly lacking from the VR space in the early going is the availability of graphic-intense games and experiences. As graphics cards advance we will see much more fluid and life-like VR applications come to life over the next five years. Go out a bit further to 2026 and we will have begun to take advantage of advancements within the artificial intelligence space. As we mentioned above, sensors and cameras will be integrated into the latest headsets, and thanks to artificial intelligence the computers will understand the word around us. This is where augmented reality will also flourish. Imagine a VR/AR experience where one can interact in their own home. The only difference is that their home becomes a cartoon-like fantasy world. The software running the application will understand nearly everything it sees within one’s home and transform those objects into new objects. That lamp on your living room table could be changed to whatever type of lamp you’d like, while you can basically live life in a fantasy world that resembles your house, able to move around and avoid objects, as the artificial intelligence sees and understand the world around you and changes it to suit your own desires.
Similar to the smartphone space, the hardware behind most headsets will converse upon one another to a point where pretty much every headset is alike. It will be the software that’s running experiences and games which will differentiate each headset from one another. This could be where both Apple and Google excel, allowing both companies to obtain a foothold on the industry. Other companies such as Microsoft and Facebook will also likely be battling it out for platform supremacy.
Facebook clearly has a vision for the future of social networking and that vision relies heavily on virtual reality. By 2026 Mark Zuckerberg and company will have had plenty of time to integrate VR/AR into the backbone of the world’s largest social network, Facebook. One will be able to meet friends and family members across the world in a virtual space and communicate in a similar fashion as if they were literally in the same room. This will connect the world in new ways, creating new business models, proving the importance of VR/AR within the Enterprise space. Because of Facebook’s hardware/software/platform presence, they will be in the enviable position to lead the market forward. Both Apple and Google likely will also be among the leaders within the platform space, leveraging their iOS and Android operating systems and integrating them within the VR/AR realm. While Facebook has the clear lead currently, the next 2-4 years will be incredibly important in terms of innovation and integration of the technology into current smartphone ecosystems.
While the future of the VR/AR space is bright and we can make numerous educated guesses as to where the industry will be in ten years, new technologies, business acquisitions, and the general economy will have unforeseen consequences which I’m sure will skew many of these predictions in one direction or another. Let’s hear your thoughts on the future of the VR/AR space in the Virtual Reality 2026 forum on VRTalk.com.