With the COVID-19 lockdowns forcing all of us indoors, could they also be the trigger that sparks expanded use of VR, and engaging with others in virtual environments?
Facebook sees VR as "the next computing platform", and given the medium's immersive capacity, and its ability to facilitate expanded engagement, beyond your regular social apps, it's not hard to imagine that more people will be looking VRs way, and considering what it could mean for their own usage. The economic impact of COVID-19 will also reduce discretionary spending, which could equally slow VR's momentum. But VR is advancing as a platform - and it could be closer to crossing a key consumer threshold than many think.
This week, Facebook has announced a new update for its Oculus Quest system, including a redesigned menu system, new control overlays, and multi-window support for 2D apps, starting with Oculus Browser.
Oculus Quest is an all-in-one VR unit, incorporating full VR capacity without the need for wires and connection to an external source.
The new control systems in Quest will make it easier for users to switch between VR environments and 2D apps, while also staying connected with others in the VR space. Worth noting here, too, that earlier this month, Facebook began user testing of its new 'Horizon' VR social platform, where users will engage with each other within simulated worlds
"Our new design organizes information more clearly to help you navigate to commonly-used system apps like Explore, Store, Browser, and TV more quickly, as well as access key settings like brightness and volume. It also rings your recently and frequently used apps front and center so it’s easy to jump back into the action."
Maybe most interestingly, given the current situation, is the support for multiple windows within VR, "so you can multitask to get more done and stay connected".
I mean, that looks better than my actual WFH set up - and you'll be able to switch from this straight into VR, and engage with friends in the virtual environment.
It's interesting to consider what the development of VR means, with respect to the future of how we connect, beyond just playing games and looking at cartoonish avatars in generated worlds. As noted, the COVID-19 shutdowns have shown that many of us can, in fact, operate from home - but you will miss out on the social aspects, of just catching up with friends and workmates, and being able to talk to each other face-to-face.
Video chat apps are on the rise to stand-in for this - but maybe, soon, you'll simply meet-up in VR, and defeat some bad guys in your lunch break, while also staying in touch with friends. Maybe, the current lockdowns are the first step to a broader work from home shift, and that, then, will provide a key stepping stone straight into VR as the next major evolution.
There are still significant impediments to broader VR adoption, and it remains to be seen what the full impacts of the coronavirus pandemic will be. But it's definitely something that you want to keep an eye on, as the opportunities VR will open up could be significant.
You can read more about the latest updates for the Oculus Quest system here.