Why Hasn’t Virtual Reality Gone Mainstream?

Virtual reality has been around for quite some time now. Tens of millions of people have untethered VR headsets (the type that uses a smartphone for a screen), and further millions (not too many, just a couple) have “true” VR headsets connected to computers and gaming consoles. Yet the massive success some analysts expected the technology to see has failed to come. VR is exciting, of course, and it has the potential to change everything from live casinos to real estate and, of course, the entertainment industry, but its spread is very slow compared to other technologies – like smartphones, for example. After more than a year on the market, VR headsets haven’t become mainstream yet – and the cost of the headsets is not the only one to blame.

One thing that most users complain about when using tethered VR headsets is the fact that they are tethered, as in they have to be linked up to the computer using cables. This limits the freedom of movement while playing, and – let’s face it – is pretty annoying. There are solutions in the works, of course – think of Microsoft’s HoloLens, a “holographic computer” that will have no wires whatsoever.

Next, there are the side effects that some users experience when using VR headsets. The common symptoms of virtual reality sicknesses (yes, this is a thing) are similar to motion sickness, with a headache, nausea, sweating, drowsiness, disorientation, and apathy. The condition is caused by the virtually induced sense of self-motion. On the headsets’ part, this is caused by mismatched motion, motion parallax, and viewing angle. While VR gaming specialists have found that VR sickness disappears after a few days of usage (getting your sea legs), this is still an issue – some users find it odd to pay a lot of money just to be sick for a few days.

Last but not least, there’s the question of making VR appeal to non-gaming users. The technology has a lot of potentials to be used in many fields aside from video games, like education, real estate, business, design and engineering, and so on. But actually getting people with no interest in VR gaming interested in the technology might prove harder than expected.

Despite its appealing and exciting nature, virtual reality is at the very beginning of its road, and by no means ready for mass adoption. The 2016 Virtual Reality Industry Report, issued jointly by Greenlight VR and Road to VR last April, expects VR to become mainstream – reaching a tipping point in the adoption of the medium – in the coming six to eight years. The same report expects around 37 million (non-Cardboard) VR headsets to be in the consumers’ hands by 2020. This could, of course, change, if a truly popular VR innovation gets rolled out sooner.