Neil Young: 'VR and AR won't take off for three to five years'

Industry veteran highlights the many barriers both technologies face before they will achieve mass adoption
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N3twork CEO Neil Young believes the industry is not reader for virtual or augmented reality yet – and might not be for half a decade.

During his opening keynote at Develop: Brighton 2015, the former ngmoco founder cited the various challenges both technologies must overcome before they will become popular with the masses.

“None of these devices will reach meaningful scale in the next three years,” he said, referring to products such as Oculus Rift and Microsoft’s HoloLens. “There are significant social, physical, technical and other barriers before they will achieve mass adoption.”

Young observed that AR and VR, while seemingly similar technologies, are actually at opposite ends of the spectrum, with augmented reality attempt to blend with the real world and virtual reality trying to replace it.

Virtual reality, he said, is the natural extension of consoles, handhelds and PCs: built for longer, dedicated gaming sessions.

“VR really wants to be even longer, even less frequent sessions, but there’s a lot of inherent social friction with wanting to stick a giant headset on your head,” he said.

Young also pointed out that motion sickness is just one of the medical implications VR needs to tackle, and that legal implications will be connected to these. There is also the issue of business costs, in terms of weighing up the benefits of developing a VR device as a standalone platform or a peripheral to an established platform.

“We’re not ready for VR yet, at least not the VR that mass adoption will allow to drive the industry forward,” he said.

Augmented reality, meanwhile, wants to be an on-demand system, as available as your phone or watch. And there will still be social friction, as people “didn’t look too cool walking around with Google Glass”.

Young adds that “as much as Microsoft wants you to believe it”, Minecraft – and, by extension, gaming – is not the most obvious implementation of AR. Instead, it’s most likely to be used in the workplace and applications that fit in with this are going to receive the bulk of funding and investment.

Young concluded that both VR and AR are “three to five years out in terms of meaningful scale”.

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