There was a moment when I was testing the new virtual reality headset by Samsung when I realized how much of an opportunity it presents for entrepreneurs.
I was at a rock concert watching a guy patter away on a drum set, and I looked over at the wall of the concert hall and noticed a poster. It's not something you can click on, and the poster isn't really an advertisement at all. It made me sit up and take notice, though. Banner ads can sell a product. Posters shown in a virtual reality environment that provide some added entertainment, now that's really innovative.
The concert wasn't real, but you perceive it as though it's happening in front of you. You can look around, look up, and even turn around and look behind you. Your brain is convinced what is happening takes place in a different realm.
Highly portable, light enough to wear for a few hours, and absolutely disruptive in the tech sector, the Gear VR is transportative in the best sense of the (fake) word. As you wear the goggles, you become immersed in a movie, a game, a photograph, or another form of reality altogether (a.k.a., the Cirque du Soleil video that runs on the device).
If startups can figure out how to take advantage of VR in 2015, there could be a big revenue stream. And I mean big.
What could they build? I can imagine a few interesting apps. Let's say you are a real estate agency and you have already created one of those 360-degree walkthrough videos. Port it over to Gear VR as an app, can you can differentiate from the agency up the road. Or, how about a car dealership that wants to let people "kick the tires" on new that fancy new Fiat mini car? For a small business, making these apps, marketing them, creating the media, developing the advertising models--it's a bigger deal than Google Glass, which is now becoming a distant memory. And, it could be a major missed opportunity for Apple, who have focused on making a watch that may or may not appeal to the masses.
Part of what makes this all so interesting is that the Gear VR didn't make me feel sick. There wasn't that feeling of losing my bearings. They've tweaked the experience to make it more palatable. Like the Oculus Rift goggles which birthed this product (the Oculus logo is prominently displayed on the side of the headset), the immersion seems real. To use the Gear VR, you do need to use a Samsung Note 4 smartphone, which snaps into place on the front using two plastic hinges. The Oculus app is where it all happens. When you don the headset with the phone in place, the app fires up.
You can download more apps from within the VR experience, including movies, photos, and games. Some of them are free, a few cost a few dollars. In my tests, the goggles were light enough to wear for an hour or more. I never felt like I was getting a headache, but when you take off the goggles, you almost feel like you are returning to reality. However, the experience is about the same as walking out of a dimly lit theater into the bright sun. A bit disconcerting, but not unbearable.
Samsung has presented the Gear VR as an experimental device. I couldn't keep people away from the thing. I had teens, young adults, middle-aged folks, and random strangers beg me to let them try it. And not just try it--they wanted to keep wearing it for hours. It was at least as compelling to them as an HDTV show back in the day, if not more so. It sure beats 4K. Maybe you will think wearing the goggles looks a bit weird, but the truth is--you can't really explain how the 360-degree experience feels until you try it. And, according to Facebook (which owns Oculus), we don't have to worry too much about how VR tricks our brains. It's just another standard-issue optical illusion.
Do you want to wear them all day? Maybe not. Is $200 a high price for a pair of goggles that require a separate smartphone that costs $300 on contract? Maybe so. There's no telling whether this experiment will lead to Samsung selling millions of units and catapulting us all into space or floating down the Amazon on a boat that feels perfectly real (minus the bugs). A "big" opportunity is not a guaranteed opportunity.
For startups, there's always a risk. We live by that as a cardinal rule. Imagine making some of the first iPhone or Android apps or jumping on the HDTV programming bandwagon a few years ago. There's a similar potential, judging from the reactions from those who tried the goggles during my test. There's someone knocking on my office door right now, asking if they can try that Cirque du Soleil movie again. This could be a trend.