News Analysis
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg says Virtual Reality is going to be “an important technology,” one that will have an impact on nearly every facet of our lives. Goldman Sachs predicts that the VR industry will generate $80 billion a year by 2025. And companies from Sony to Google to Apple are investing heavily in VR products and technologies in hopes of capturing a slice of that projected pie.

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The buzz that surrounds VR comes from an awareness that every several years an emerging technology begins to reshape our culture. The new product liberates us to explore previously unseen opportunities in both our professional and personal lives. The behavioral shift leads to widespread change in the way we do business and relate to others.

Most recently, the smart phone falls into that category.

But more times than not, the buzz turns out to be hype, and the product/technology never reaches the masses. It will either flop entirely, or simply become something that’s used by a relatively small number of people.

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It says here that Virtual Reality will fall into that latter category, and there are four reasons why. Four reasons I call, ‘Swanni’s Rules of Success.’

Rather than being blinded by journalistic hype or corporate hope, I have used these rules in recent years to accurately predict that 3D TV would be a bust; that cord-cutting would be a niche rather than a mass movement; that live streaming would struggle due to technological problems; and that the curved-screen TV would fail to generate significant sales.

I also used the four guidelines to arrive at my predictions that Netflix and other subscription streaming services would complement pay TV services rather than replace them; that 4K TV would fail to ignite until its picture was undeniably better than High-Definition TV; and that consumers would begin to opt for bigger-screen TVs.

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So based on these four rules, here’s why I think Virtual Reality will be no more than a niche product, and perhaps not even that.

1. It doesn’t fulfill an urgent need.
(Examples of products that do: The microwave. The smart phone.)

This is where I have a major problem with VR. I don’t know what the urgent need is. I can understand that some people would find it fun in gaming and other entertainment activities. But does even that subset of society have an urgent need to don the goggles and virtually scan the surroundings of a display?

For a product to truly alter our culture, there has to be that kind of pressing need and I’m not seeing it with VR. There’s a big difference between leisure activity and need.

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2. It doesn’t make the lives of most people more appealing and/or entertaining.
Examples of products that do: Mobile Music. Streaming Video.

Virtual Reality enthusiasts say a well-done VR program or enhancement adds enormous appeal and entertainment. I’m not sure if I see it yet, but I will take their word on it for now.

But to date, only a small number of people (gamers mostly) are using Virtual Reality on a regular basis.

In fact, most people are not seeing any reason to use it, or in some cases, they actually see a reason not to use it because it elicits feelings of physical uneasiness. (Yes, you can get sick.) For a product to reach the masses, the masses have to be excited about using it and there’s little or no evidence of that happening.

3. It doesn’t provide more options in our lives.
Examples of products that do: The mini satellite dish. Streaming video.

A Virtual Reality feature that enhances a game or TV show does not really provide more options; it just supplements the existing option. You would have played the game or watched the TV show anyway, right?

However, you could argue that a VR program that stands separately from an existing piece of content does provide a new entertainment option. Without the VR program, that option would not exist. But it’s uncertain if the new entertainment choice will be appealing and entertaining. If it’s not, VR would fail on rule #3.

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4. It doesn’t add convenience, or is easy to use.
Example of products that do: E-Mail. Text. Social Media.

And this is where I have another major problem with Virtual Reality. Most VR experts say the technology is still a work in progress. Some VR headsets work well; some don’t. Some VR programs offer striking views while others are a blurry mess.  Some goggles are a pain to fit on your head while others, well, okay, almost all goggles are a pain to fit on your head.

There are also compatibility problems (one program works with your iPhone, but not Android, and so on.)

‘Easy to use’ is not necessarily the first thing you would think of when asked about Virtual Reality.

So to sum up. Virtual Reality, like many new technologies, is intriguing because it flirts with some of our four rules to success. But as of now, it falls short on at least three of them. Consequently, I could not predict that VR will be a ‘next big thing,’ but rather the next niche thing.

— Phillip Swann