Challenges of Developing Virtual Reality Applications
Inspired by the success of Pokemon GO and Snapchat lenses, tech-savvy companies seek new ways to engage customers and pour billions into VR/AR projects. As a result, the global Virtual Reality market will top $ 33 billion in 5 years. Pavel Shylenok, CTO at R-Style Lab, however, doesn’t share the enthusiasm, citing the challenges of developing high-quality Virtual Reality applications as the key reason why the tech won’t go mainstream anytime soon. Here’s why.
Want to develop a VR app? What do you mean by “Virtual Reality”?
In a nutshell, Virtual Reality is a technology that transforms user environment using 3D graphics and sounds and enables us to interact with physical objects in a seemingly real way.
As vague as it reads, the definition refers to experience, not software!
In fact, software vendors possess the right tools and technologies (namely, game engines like Unity and Unreal Engine) to bring still images to life. The question is, do they have the right content to engage users?
Instead of high-quality 3D scenes with real-size objects and realistic textures, most VR apps incorporate 2D panoramic images. You can neither touch the objects displayed at those pics nor walk behind them – even if you put the most expensive HMD on! What’s more, the existing VR apps most often deliver the so-called rail shooter experience: if you’re playing a game, your character simply moves along a defined trajectory and turns left and right to shoot monsters jumping out at you. Physically, you stay in the same place and can’t even pace the room without the threat of bumping your head on the wall.
Such apps are inexpensive and relatively easy to build; however, it’s not the VR we’ve seen in sci-fi movies.
From a user’s point of view, does it make any sense to splurge on costly VR headsets like Oculus Rift and HTC and end up viewing panoramic images when similar effect can be achieved with a smartphone and Google Cardboard?
How to develop great VR apps?
If you want to take VR app development to the next level, you’ve basically got two options:
- Craft high-quality 3D content. If you want to create an app that enables users to take virtual tours to the National Etruscan Museum, you have to model the entire building in 3ds Max and texturize it using VRay. You will also need VR middleware – the game engines we’ve mentioned above which are enhanced with physics stimulation and graphics rendering capabilities and support cross-platform integration (mobile, desktop, VR headsets);
- Introduce new UIs and control options. Due to technology limitations, VR app developers cannot control a user’s entire body. As a result, users can neither touch objects in VR nor walk around with a headset on. Perhaps we’ll see more sensor gadgets designed specifically for VR (like smart gloves) on the market soon. In order to combat motion sickness, you can black out users’ peripheral vision. Although they would only see what’s happening in front of them, it’s still better than nothing.
In other words, today’s Virtual Reality is a trade-off between full VR experience and confined space. Does it have any real-life applications?
Virtual Reality use cases
VR might seem a limited for gamers, but it’s a different story when it comes to industries like healthcare & hospitality.
- Healthcare. Several healthcare organizations including the Royal London Hospital and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center use VR software to broadcast complex surgeries in real time and help patients battle anxiety. There’s also We are Alfred, an app that puts medical students in the shoes of an elderly visually impaired man. Even in its current state, the technology has the potential to improve medical education – and more is to come;
- Tourism and hospitality. According to the Phocuswright research firm, VR tourism apps can help consumers choose travel destinations (especially when it comes to countries with no top-tier landmarks) by conveying the emotions of a traveling experience days before they embark on a journey. Matoke Tours, a travel operator from Africa, has recently launched an app which incorporates panoramic images of Uganda. Another example comes from Thomas Cook, a UK-based travel agent who partnered with Samsung to promote several tourist locations through VR tours and increased NY excursions’ revenue by 190%. Interior designers and real estate agents can take similar approach to engage home owners/buyers and tenants;
- Entertainment. In fact, there’s a bunch of cool VR apps for HMDs and smartphones including Chair in a Room, BAMF and Within. Provided you have a high-quality headset, VR game fields won’t look like Super Mario from 15 years ago.
Pavel Shylenok doesn’t think the Virtual Reality technology will make its way to enterprise software ecosystems anytime soon. However, VR could potentially facilitate business processes and enable office workers to master complex enterprise solutions including document management and resource planning systems in no time (though it’s hard to picture an office full of HMD zombies).
Despite multiple disadvantages of current VR gear and software, the technology has strong market appeal. It’s no wonder Facebook, Qualcomm and Intel invest billions in VR projects! With the proliferation of public APIs, data processing solutions and advances in smartphone technology, VR is inevitable.
About the author: Andrei Klubnikin is Senior Content Manager at R-Style Lab. Andrei has 5+ year experience in content management and copywriting.