Despite the hype, we don’t really know what affect VR/AR experiences will have on productivity once these immersive experiences scale out into the enterprise — but we should already recognize the risk of unintended consequences.
Be careful when you follow the virtual path
The optimism of good intention is one thing. But if we’ve learned nothing else in recent years, it is surely how powerful technologies can also be used against us. Think of the ugly consequences of Facebook and social conditioning, of artificial intelligence on employment, or even the security implications of having your entire life on a smartphone in an era also defined by NSO Group.
Why would VR/AR be any different?
Apple is expected to introduce its take on wearable VR/AR in 2022 or early in 2023. As noted, these Apple Glasses will likely use M-series processors, provide immersive experiences, and offer advanced sensors to help you navigate the world you’re in, not just the virtual or augmented environment you’re exploring.
Recently leaked source code suggests the device will run a realityOS system, though analysts — including Morgan Stanley’s Katy Huberty — don’t really expect these things to have a huge impact on Apple’s income for a few years yet.
One emerging unexpected consequence is collision control. Meta Reality Labs had a holiday season success on sales of the Oculus Quest 2 headsets in 2021. But that success also spurred numerous domestic accidents, as reported by home contents insurer Aviva, which experienced a 31% increase in home contents claims involving use of VR headsets.
These claims, average value: $880, included incidents like the one in which a man swung a punch in his virtual world and accidentally struck his ceiling fan.
While lost in immersive worlds, people are wrecking their furniture, destroying valuable ornaments, and accidentally smashing their TV. Reflecting the growing deployment of VR headsets, the insurer claims incidents of this kind have climbed 68% in five years.
People trying out this technology clearly need to have better insight into what’s happening around them in the non-virtual world to use these gadgets safely.
But what about the enterprise?
If damage is bad in consumer’s homes, what about the enterprise market? There’s so much expectation that once businesses engage with AR/VR solutions, they will be able to unlock new levels of productivity. But is the tech yet ready to unleash in that way?
Think about warehousing. Will workers collide with shelves full of valuable stock, or will remote fork lift drivers accidentally damage more? Can businesses safely function while employees are ensconced in immersive virtual productivity experiences?
I think Aviva’s data shows the jury may need a little more time to consider.
There’s a difference between augmented and virtual reality, of course. The latter consists of more complete experiences that fill sight and sound with completely different environments.
The former can consist of solutions that overlay valuable information above your lived environment. Those warehouse workers may find themselves guided to the shelves they need with interactive maps superimposed above their environments, or a surgeon may see case notes and relevant resources made available while maintaining their focus on the matter in hand.
But even there, we can’t yet accurately predict the extent to which even augmented information may distract a user at an inappropriate moment, and what the consequences of such distraction may be.
What Apple may be planning
Apple’s longer-term ambition in Apple glasses is thought to involve a lightweight pair of spectacles equipped with AR features. In the short-term, however, it’s thought the company intends on introducing a mixed-reality headset. This would provide immersive experiences like VR goggles from other manufacturers, including Quest 2 and others.
Recently, we’ve heard claims Apple’s plan extends to use of VR for FaceTime chats, and it seems seriously probable the company will have a raft of Arcade games, Music, TV+, and other experiences ready to go as it works to ramp up the services component around its new platform. We’ve discussed this extensively in the past. This may extend to the Apple’s consumer-focused SharePlay feature.
What we don’t know yet are the unexpected consequences, or the extent to which they may negate any of the productivity benefits the devices are expected to provide. (Aviva’s news certainly suggests effective collision and movement detection will be mandatory to optimize these outcomes.)
With this in mind, it is interesting that Apple is thought to be developing glasses equipped with two powerful M-series processors: one to provide the experience, the other to handle real-world sensor data.
If Apple manages to build a situationally-aware solution that can deliver immersive VR, while making sure users don’t collide with their surroundings, then it may be able to reassure enterprises to at least give its AR goggles a look.
A similar set of situationally-aware accident-avoidance technologies will, incidentally, also be required within autonomous vehicles, including Apple’s future car.