This Month in the Wonderful World of XR: Could an immersive retail experience pack a punch against e-commerce?


Dave

Mar 4th, 2021

The mass adoption of extended reality or (XR)–the collective term for virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR)–is a long way off, but there’s a battle raging between the giants of big tech to become “the next big computing platform.” The corona crisis has only fueled the fire which is why I write a monthly overview about the most noteworthy events and changes in the XR landscape.

This Month in the Wonderful World of XR: Could an immersive retail experience pack a punch against e-commerce?


Dave

The mass adoption of extended reality or (XR)–the collective term for virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR)–is a long way off, but there’s a battle raging between the giants of big tech to become “the next big computing platform.” The corona crisis has only fueled the fire which is why I write a monthly overview about the most noteworthy events and changes in the XR landscape.

Psychedelic supermarket

Last month’s article was almost entirely devoted to CES21, the consumer electronics show in Las Vegas. Because we can’t get enough, let’s stay in Sin City a bit longer. Since much is allowed in Vegas that is not possible in the rest of America (24/7 drinking, gambling), it feels like an amusement park for adults. Everything revolves around experience and that vision was reinforced with the opening of Area 15 in September last year.

Area 15’s tagline is “Area 15 does not exist” (a clear nod to Area 51, the mysterious military base in the midst of the Nevada desert) though Area 15 is easily found minutes from the Strip. As the “world’s first experiential shopping and entertainment complex,” Area 15 is home to live events, immersive brand activations, art installations, technology, bars and restaurants. In other words, it is a sensory-stimulating experience which rethinks the concept behind shopping center destinations. Good timing, too. Shopping centers are currently losing against e-commerce.

On February 18th, the newest attraction, Omega Mart, opened. Think of it as a cross between a supermarket and an art exhibition with a psychedelic, greasy sauce poured on top. More than 325 artists created ±250 projects in the exhibition, which spans four themed areas and 60 additional unique environments, including rooms filled with interactive installations and portals to other worlds. Anyone who ventures into the exhibition will also find more than 100 custom items on the supermarket shelves, including “Impact Corn,” tattooed chicken and pierced potatoes(?)! The immersive nature of such experiences thins the line between “virtual” and “reality.” You can imagine yourself existing within a computer game so see firsthand how virtual worlds are increasingly shaping our lives.

Realworld is aiming for a multiplayer “Google Earth VR” alternative

In 2014, I got the hang of the virtual reality jitters and it immediately became clear that tourism could become a killer use case for VR. Google Earth VR, available today on PC VR (VR glasses connected to a heavy gaming computer), is a breathtaking way to explore our fascinating planet. An important missing feature has been the ability to do this with friends. In recent months, Social VR has opened many people’s eyes to reveal the potential of this medium. To experience the virtual world together and be able to discuss it in realtime only makes the feeling of being present in a different environment more powerful.

 

With Google sadly giving up on many of its VR initiatives, it’s unlikely we’ll see a version of Google Earth VR with multiplayer, let alone with Oculus Quest support. But this month Cubic VR announced that they are working on a new app to make this possible. The platform will be called Realworld and will be made available for Quest, PC VR and AR devices. Personally, I don’t think this is the holy grail of virtual tourism, but to pre-explore the next city or road trip together with your pals or partner seems like a fun application. The concept of “experience” is what’s missing here. For now, Realworld will be based on Google Maps so it lacks moving images or sound. The latter is especially important for a VR experience’s degree of immersion. Those interested can visit the Realworld site to register for the beta version and stay up to date with the eventual launch.

MetaHumans

Epic Games, the maker of (among others) Fortnite, has introduced a new Unreal Engine app. The MetaHuman Creator allows users to create realistic persons who can be used as characters by game developers and creators of real-time 3D content, like movies or TV shows. Previously it took days to weeks to develop a character; now it’s possible in less than an hour. The tool runs in the cloud and is accessed via a web app.

Head, Set, Go (again)

Since rumors surrounding a secretive Apple product are getting louder, competing brands have started activating their PR agencies, i.e. Sony and their Playstation VR. At the end of October last year, Jim Ryan, CEO of Playstation, spoke about the future of the game console successor to the PSVR. He said that virtual reality wouldn’t be a meaningful part of interactive entertainment for the foreseeable future. In fact, Ryan indicated that VR still has a long way to go, though he did emphasize that Sony is not giving up on the medium. He suggested that an update to Sony’s PlayStation VR headset is years away. This week, however, the successor was announced on the official PlayStation blog. Fans should not count on a product launch in 2021, but Sony wants you to know that they are committed to a new headset (and especially want to prevent their platform users from turning to the competition).

 

Magic Leap has also returned to the scene. For those not in the XR industry, you may be unaware, but the producer of these mixed-reality headsets is possibly the most overrated startup ever. They raised a whopping $3 billion in a few short years and the Magic Leap 1 bombed its product launch. The device completely fell short of expectations and–at $2,300–was seriously overpriced. The CEO was fired in April last year, 1000 employees were asked to look elsewhere for a job and the focus shifted from consumer to enterprise. This month they announced that the successor, the Magic Leap Two, is expected in Q4 of this year. With this device they will compete with Microsoft and its Hololens, among others.

Finally, there is Samsung. After rumors surfaced last month that they were working on new VR glasses, a product video was launched this week showing what their AR glasses would look like and how they could work. This is one step further than their Silicon Valley counterparts. Both Facebook and Apple have already stated that they are fully committed to augmented reality, but neither has revealed as much as Samsung. The train might not have left the station, so to speak, but it is gathering steam, which makes doing business in this sector a lot more interesting.

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