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Earlier today, sassy hardware enthusiast and TechCrunch columnist John Biggs outlined the reasons he believes that the current white-hot promise of Virtual Reality will be DOA. He makes a compelling case, and it’s one I happen to agree with. However, it’s for those same reasons that Amazon Alexa, and the eventual services like it, are going to fundamentally change how we interact with, well, everything.
Here are a few of the reasons Biggs is bearish on VR, and what that means for Alexa:
Lack of Content
Forget high-quality content, there isn’t much VR content out there, period. Biggs points out that filming in 360-degrees doesn’t happen often, and is expensive and cumbersome when it does. This wave of VR is offering producers no financial incentive to move away from TV-based content any time soon.
But you know what there are tons of? Web services. We already experienced the “API revolution” at the start of this decade. And now everyone and their grandmother is chasing the “bot” market. This excitement about chatbots is based on the belief that we will all live in our messaging apps. But you know where we already live? Our homes.
Voice is the perfect UI for much of the utility we get from our phones at home, all without needing to bury your head in a screen.
Crappy, Expensive Hardware
VR headsets are clunky, awkward, and expensive. If you want those experiences to be fully immersive, you also need the space to walk around without breaking your neck as you trip over your sofa.
Amazon changed the game for voice-enabled experiences with the Echo. And now they’ve dropped two more devices, the Tap and the Dot, the latter of which retails for less than $90. Amazon has also shrewdly already opened up the Alexa Voice Service to third-party hardware/software developers. This will undoubtedly drive others to open up, like Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana. It’s rumored that Google is preparing to release their Echo competitor shortly.
So there is already solid, accessible hardware available. But by opening up early, we will all look back at the original Echo and laugh at how primitive it was, as we talk to our Alexa-powered homes, cars, toys, and appliances.
Not Wanting Zombie Kids
Biggs nails this point, and it’s worth considering past more than just VR. In his words:
We are about to enter a decade of electronics backlash. Just as TV was vilified by parents in the 1990s I suspect iPads and other devices will be vilified in the 2020s. Parents are watching their kids be swallowed up by mobile devices and the resulting pushback will probably stymie device sales for a solid decade. The result? The parents who hate “the iPad” will really hate VR. Kids drive entertainment hardware sales. I assure you there is no parent in the world right now who will allow their little ones to fall as deeply into a virtual world…
The effect of this will be profound. As a parent, the feeling of device backlash resonates with me deeply. It disturbs me to see my daughter glued to my phone when she manages to get her hands on it, locked onto the screen, basking in it’s warm glow.
But beyond just her use, I have developed a heightened awareness around “being on my phone” at home. I don’t want to set a bad example in front of her. Even without casual web browsing, it’s hard to not pick up the phone to check the weather or play music on my Sonos. If I had a Nest, or smart lighting, or any of the other countless smart home apps, my phone would be even more central to my home life in a way I wouldn’t want.
Enter the Echo. Alexa has begun replacing all the reasons I pick up my phone at home. I’m eager to have myself and others build more and more Alexa skills to replace my phone. I dream of having the utility of smartphones and apps in my house without every picking up my device. That’s what Alexa promises to do.
We’re in the second coming of VR, and I agree with Biggs, we’re still not there yet. We’re nowhere near the kinds of VR experiences we’ve envisioned for the last few decades.
But we’ve been equally captivated by the idea of a voice-enabled future for a long time. And this Jetsons-like, just-ask-for-it reality is already here.
Biggs ends with his belief that “to be truly ubiquitous a technology has to ruin our lives.” To control your home, to have food delivered, to listen to or watch any form of media ever created, all without having to even lift a finger? Sounds pretty ruinous to me.