Plotting VR's Learning Curve: A Conversation With Strata

In VR and AR's early days, we're learning a lot about consumers' appetite and understanding. One phenomenon we've observed -- especially with VR -- is that newbies grasp it right away, then quickly ideate other areas where it could apply.

In other words, after receiving a VR demo -- say a gaming or productivity app -- they'll intuitively begin to verbalize other prospective VR applications that could apply to their lives or work. They'll talk about how they see everyone from doctors to designers using it.

The phenomenon played out at this week's Chief Learning Officer week, where we witnessed VRARA member Strata give demos to long lines of people from the corporate training/learning segment. The hot topic of the day became VR's place in everything from management to industrial training.

"I've been working in tech for many years, and have never seen a new technology that people understand so quickly when you give them a demo," Strata CEO John Wright told me. "And their minds will immediately go to other VR applications that make sense."

One reason for this cognitive leap is VR's visual intensity. It strikes users to such an immersive degree that they understand it on deeply visceral levels. It's also interesting to watch new users intuitively pick up controls/inputs without instruction (sometimes a function of age).

But there's also a downside to the phenomenon: because it's so deeply visceral, it can't be explained in words. So the masses won't truly grasp VR until they try it in person. That raises a barrier in these early cost-burdened days of VR, when relatively few people have access.

This is supportive of two things that will bring VR to the masses sooner: mobile VR and location-based VR (e.g. VR arcades). The latter will need to come before wide-scale HMD home ownership... just as the arcades of the 70s and 80s preceded home gaming console ubiquity.

But the biggest lesson is that VR's adoption and market penetration will start slow, but then hit a tipping point and suddenly accelerate quickly. That will happen when a critical mass of consumers get that initial "wow" experience, then naturally imagine other apps they want.

But all of the above mostly applies at the consumer level. The adoption cycle will happen faster in the enterprise, as we've argued. Like consumers, corporate buyers will need to try VR to get it, but ultimately they'll have a greater impetus to invest given potential cost savings.

That brings us back to Strata. It's beginning to target large companies that have decentralized teams that need specific training. Doing that in a virtual environment is cheaper than dispatching human capital to far-flung locations; and it's more effective than training videos.

One of Wright's demos is an immersive guide to fixing a Ford truck tire, which could be used by dealerships as a design reference. Similar processes could be applied to everything from Jiffy Lube to Supercuts, where quality control and common protocols need to be enforced.

This makes the corporate franchise sector an opportune area for VR. We're not there yet but the first step is awareness. Once the tipping points comes -- as we saw with enterprise app development in the smartphone era --  the corporate spending will flow quickly.

Learn more about the VR/AR Association, San Francisco Chapter here

Mike Boland

Michael Boland is Chief Analyst and VP of Content for BIA/Kelsey, covering online and mobile media. Mike is a frequent speaker at top industry conferences such as BIA/Kelsey events, Search Engine Strategies, ad:tech, and WHERE 2.0. He has authored in-depth reports on the changing local media landscape including online video, social networking and mobile. He contributes regularly to highly read online news sources such as Business Insider and the Huffington Post. A trusted source for reporters covering the interactive media space, his comments have appeared in major news and trade media, including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune and Forbes. Previously he was a San Francisco-based freelance writer for business and technology magazines, such as Red Herring, Business 2.0, and Mobile Magazine. Mike began his career in business analysis and journalism as a staff reporter for Forbes magazine, where he covered tech & media.