Author(s): Peter Bryer
Virtual reality (VR) is for leisure and learning, too.
CCS Insight believes that virtual reality is one of the most important emerging technologies today. There's building excitement about VR hardware and content, with smartphone and camera makers, Hollywood studios, game developers and social networking services preparing to embed this new medium into their products in the coming years. It's early, but the introduction of flagship products during 2016 mean we expect momentum to build and interest among consumers to grow.
Gaming is a clear and leading use case for VR, but we believe that there's fantastic potential in the use of the technology in all levels of education. The right devices and content can see students immersed in learning material that sparks excitement and curiosity.
This week, Google introduced Expeditions, a new virtual reality educational platform that the company is providing to a limited number of schools in several countries around the globe. The virtual reality field trips enable students to be submerged in foreign cultures and historical landmarks, and Google and content partners have developed more than 100 virtual reality "journeys".
Google is currently offering Expedition "kits" including hardware, content and instructions to selected schools in Australia, Brazil, New Zealand, the UK and the US. The kits include Asus smartphones and Google Cardboard or Mattel View-Masters for students, and a tablet for teachers who direct the virtual tours. Google will provide a dedicated Expeditions router with access to content for schools without Internet connections. Special instructors from Google will introduce the virtual reality tool to teachers.
"Locations" for virtual field trips include Mars, the Great Barrier Reef and the Great Wall of China. Other content coming online via Expedition includes virtual visits to museums, virtual career days and virtual college tours.
Google has worked with partners including Alchemy VR, David Attenborough, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, PBS and the Wildlife Conservation Society to offer the Expedition platform cost-free to schools — a commendable endeavour. But this project is also acting as an interesting experiment in the use of VR as a learning and teaching tool, and is helping to promote virtual reality to a very young generation who will grow as the technology improves. It's perhaps akin to the first students to have computers in their classrooms in the early 1980s: this is the beginning.
Expedition isn't a massive project yet, and the number of users will initially be in the hundreds, but this will further establish VR as a legitimate educational tool among schools and among parents as well. The ability to repurpose Android smartphones using VR "shells" like Google Cardboard, LG's VR headset and the Samsung Gear VR should provide the platform with public clout in emerging markets.
CCS Insight believes that developments like Expedition will help to make 2016 a vital year in establishing virtual reality as a content medium after clear signs of interest in 2015. Nonetheless, the big numbers are still far off.
CCS Insight defines a smartphone VR device as one that provides a fully immersive VR experience by using the screen and processing power of a smartphone, which is inserted into a "shell" that's possibly equipped with additional sensors. Google Cardboard and Samsung Gear VR are examples of smartphone VR devices. We forecast that 2.5 million smartphone VR devices will be in use by the end of 2015, and expect this to grow to 54 million by 2019, with almost half being in emerging markets. It's an impressive rate of growth, but the numbers appear small in an industry that's used to measuring users in the billions. There are still several technology hurdles to overcome for VR to reach its long-term goal of providing the illusion of "being there", but the learning process is well underway.
If you subscribe to our research and would like to see related content about VR, please click here to see our latest forecast for augmented and virtual reality and click here for our report covering the recent Oculus Connect 2 event.