Once, navigating the digital world -- one that didn't extend far beyond a floppy disk -- was the province of typed commands. Then came the Mac and Windows with their friendly icons that eventually left behind the mouse and keyboard for the touch screens of smartphones and tablets.
This month, though, was a watershed in the development of the next wave of computer interaction. Facebook-owned Oculus shipped the consumer version of its highly touted Rift virtual reality headset that rekindled interest in VR. HTC announced preorders for its Vive virtual reality system Vive. Sony announced pricing and began preorders for its PlayStation VR system.
And Microsoft announced that it has shipped a version of its HoloLens headset to developers. Unlike recent virtual reality headsets, HoloLens creates rich augmented reality -- what Microsoft calls holographic computing -- without needing to be connected to a separate computer. However, one doesn't need to enter an alternate reality
They raise consumer and employee expectations.
While some VR systems come with controllers and others require purchasing them separately, all allow wearers to manipulate objects around them in a way that transcends a 2D screen experience. Volvo and Boeing are among the companies that have signed up to use HoloLens for design work as the product allows unprecedented visualization and prototyping capabilities. One HTC Vive demo humorously depicts what it would be like working for a company run by robots, but the simulation clearly shows the potential of legitimate VR training. And Facebook has talked about the potential of using the Oculus Rift to simulate travel destinations before booking a vacation.
They will train your future employees.
As attractive as new ways of communicating and collaborating are to enterprise, they can be even more powerful tools for education. Just as the digital native milennials have brought a mobile and hosted service mentality into the workplace, so will the next generation of employees treat VR and AR as second-nature phenomena. The influx of a today's mobile mindset will incorporate demand for the kinds of rich experiences that have powered Microsoft's Galaxy Explorer simulation.
They will bridge distance like never before.
Augmented Reality also has major implications for telecommuting and telework. Two employees wearing a HoloLens can interact with a third remotely and track how his head and hand move about a room. Microsoft has also shown how its Skype video chat software can interact with HoloLens. While the video conversation would still be in 2D, people could remotely display and control virtual 3D objects, such as showing how to fix an electrical short or experimenting with furniture in different room designs.
There's still a lot more on the visualization horizon. Augmented Reality Magic Leap, which reportedly raked in almost $800 million in funding recently, has yet to divulge much about its product. But with so many innovative experiences and competitive products preparing to reach customers' hands, it may have no choice but to show its own soon.