What’s The Reality Of Virtual Reality For Small Business?
Virtual reality is gaining momentum, but what are the applications for small business marketers? Contributor Chris Marentis explores.
Consumers have always been very visual, and now digital technology helps businesses make this visualization more powerful. For example, today we have visual tools, such as 3-D renderings, that construction companies and other businesses offer homebuyers to help them visualize what their dream home will look like when fully built.
There are exciting technologies on the horizon to take visualization to levels of stimulation, interaction and immersion. Technologies like virtual reality were once thought to be useful only for gaming, but they are going to be entering the realm of consumers and small businesses very soon.
Virtual reality is tricky terrain and not easy to understand. According to investment firm Piper Jaffray, the size of the market (excluding hardware) will be $5.4B by 2025, and they “liken the state of virtual and augmented reality today as similar to the state of mobile phones 15 years ago.”
Many companies are experimenting with practical uses of this technology. On November 7, The New York Times combined the newspaper with virtual reality by sending Google Cardboard to Sunday Times subscribers. The Google Cardboard viewer, along with a downloaded phone app, gave viewers a virtual presence within the 11-minute film “Displaced,” which shows the journey of three children torn from their homes by war.
Virtual Reality Versus Augmented Reality: What’s The Difference?
Experts argue whether Google Cardboard is a virtual reality tool or an immersive video tool, underlining the fact that confusion exists on terminology. I will try to eliminate the confusion with some definitions:
- Virtual Reality is a computer-generated environment that users can interact with using special equipment (generally a headset, and often including additional peripherals such as speakers/headphones, tactile gloves and/or omnidirectional treadmills). This sensory interaction allows them to experience a virtual world as if they were actually part of it.
- Augmented Reality is a technology that modifies a user’s view of the real world (or live video) by imposing digital information or data onto it. An example is the “Monocle” on the Yelp smartphone app: as you point your phone at the establishments around you, the app shows their review ratings. (This is a very useful tool if you’re in a new neighborhood and you’re hungry!)
- With Mixed Reality, you experience a real world with imaginary or virtual objects, allowing physical and digital objects to coexist and interact with one another. This is very useful for new product development — for example, by showing your consumers concepts and designs even before they are created, in an environment that they are familiar with.
What Are The Implications For Small Business?
There are many ways a small business can use this technology today to take customers beyond a flat screen to a very visual, realistic experience.
I’ll use a roofing company as an example here, but one can imagine applications of this technology in many small businesses in the future: hotels, restaurants, the apartment industry, construction, remodeling, art galleries and more.
- Virtual Reality. If you are in the roofing business, show your customers how your roof replacement process works on a virtual roof, creating effects of weathering on the roof and showcasing new roofing products.
- Augmented Reality. In the roofing business, you don’t expect your customer to walk the roof with you. But you could stream live video of the roof as you walk around on it and explain the various effects you see and the places where you need to replace shingles. Mark areas on the roof, and educate them on why and where they need to make repairs.
- Mixed Reality. We feel this will the most useful for small business. You take the customer through their actual roofing project. Place the new shingles and show them how the colors look, or the differences between the shingles. Often this is achieved by using holograms placed on top of real objects.
Top tech companies that have been working hard on this technology include Facebook-acquired Oculus Rift, Microsoft HoloLens and Magic Leap. (There is a list of additional companies in this Piper Jaffray research.)
What can you do today? Experience the technology by getting a $15 to $30 Google Cardboard viewer and use these apps to get an experience of Virtual Reality. Think of ideas to incorporate this technology into your business for customers to experience your products.
Let us know if you have already used this in some way. By the way, don’t forget you already have Augmented Reality in your pocket if you have installed the Yelp app on your phone. Open it and check the Monocle feature on the Yelp app.