The problem with hats.

A look at making HMDs fashionable.

70 minutes in heaven with the HTC Vive

Where the HTC Vive taking us?

The Myth of Virtual Reality

Let me give you a few examples of making common technology instantly dissatisfying by renaming it to something that contains lofty promise...

AKIRA in VR. (aka, working with large illustrated novels in VR.)

Spent a little time on working with a large collection of comics / illustrations in VR and this was the results. My primary interest is working with large bodies of materials and quickly being able to find a particular point of interest by visually looking for it in a 3D space.

Marketing VR in the year 2016 - Beyond Imagination

I've been thinking about VR's commercial launch. Not cardboard. Not a developer kit, no. I mean the honest to God, real deal, commercial release.

Ballroom Dancing

You build a beautiful VR ballroom and invite everyone to come. Everyone does, they wander around the ballroom, dance a few waltzes and exclaim that "Why, this is simply splendid! Isn't it dear?"

The Oculus Rift and Swimming Pools.

"I believe that VR won't play nice with our existing entertainment, it is a ravenous platform that will consume and utterly replace huge chunks of our current media and technology."

The hollow face illusion in VR.

VR strongly supports the exact same visual illusions that trick us in the real world. So, it is well worth studying these types of phenomena and seeing where they might be leveraged in VR.

Tuesday 13 October 2015

Oculus Toybox Footage overlaid with real world footage of input.

Wednesday 23 September 2015

The problem with hats.

Let me begin by saying that I never give fashion advice.  Why?  Well, no one ever seems to ask me for fashion advice.

I like to think they are just terribly intimidated.*

* I might be wrong.

Here's a VR post about fashion.  Namely the issues with VR headgear and the problem of it not currently win a lot of points with people for style.

I have a couple of working theories on why this might be and possibly how we might come to deal with it.  All very scientific and research based.

Part I - The Baseball Cap Theory

Baseball caps.  They seem to ebb and flow between WILDLY POPULAR and PRETTY POPULAR at any given time.  If you do a quick Google search, using the search term "baseball cap" and pretty much any famous person, you will likely get a hit.  I had a pretty good streak going of finding anyone I looked for up until I tried Stephen Hawking, but he's British so the odds might have not been in my favor.

Go ahead and try it, see if I'm wrong. *  I'll wait here.

* I might be wrong

OK, now.  Let's change gears a bit and take a look at another bit of head gear called a "visor".  You can find these on Google as well.

Almost IDENTICAL to baseball caps in terms of form and certainly function, they are just missing the top part.  What can you see at the top?  A person's hair. *

* Unless they don't have hair, like the angry man on the left.

Now, rerun the same search as you did before subsisting "baseball cap" for "visor" + famous person's name. You'll notice that you have a much harder time finding a match, you'll also find that if you follow the image link for anyone you DO find, it will likely end up being tied to an article that mocks them.

Same celebrities, and as far as I can see basically the same functional baseball cap design only without the top and yet, we see nothing but scorn and ridicule.  It's even so notably bad that the stars get called on it later during late night tv.

"What were you thinking?!?!  HA HA HA!" "I know right?  What was I thinking?  HA HA HA!?!?!"

So..... what's going on?  These are people with great hair, but humans seem to react poorly to a head that is encircled halfway horizontally and yet favorably to a head that is fully covered.

Why?  I have no idea.  Research is required!

Part II - Flowing faces

Let's explore it a bit, shall we?  I'm going it has something to do with how important faces are to us in this world.  We are VERY sensitive to recognizing faces and we REALLY don't like it when something screws with the story a face has to tell.  What kind of story? Well...

Here we have Tom Cruise and the story of his face is something like this for our brain:  Eyes, Nose, Mouth.  Glance at the photo and I'm pretty much going to guarantee the first thing you look at on any face are the eyes and then you'll read the rest top to bottom.

OK, go!:

Pretty simple story right?  Eyes -> Nose -> Mouth.  Beginning -> middle -> end.

Now, our brain is fine with it, if we tell it the beginning and the middle of the story but leave off the end:  eyes, nose........

If fact, it starts to make up things to end the story like "Oh, Tom looks like he's peeking over a wall!"

Our brain also seems to be pretty OKish with this story having a middle and a end as well:  ....., nose, mouth.  In fact, without the eyes, we seem to go right to the mouth and work backwards.  Mouth, eyes.

We really miss eyes though.  Your brain will wander around and keep searching for the beginning of the story.  "Where are the eyes.... Where the hell are the eyes?"  You brain will keep muttering.  "Where ARE they goddamn it??!"

Want to know what our brains really DON'T like?  Having the story interrupted.  Eyes, Mouth.  Our brain just falls over and curls up at how wrong things have suddenly become with the world.

When our brains get irritated by something, the response oddly seems to creep up in the form of "this is silly / funny / weird / odd."

Modern fashion seems to recognize this.  You can cover up your mouth no problem and your brain does not start to giggle or lash out with mockery.

Cover up both eyes and we still seem to have a good grasp of "Everything is OK here"*

* except I can't find the eyes!  Where are the eyes!!?!

It is HARD however to find images of someone covering up their nose and breaking up the story flow of the face.  I had to ride Google all the way to Harajuku, Japan before I found a  consistent resource of images that involved of nose covering fashion.

This essentially is cheating as apparently you can find every God damn look you might possibly think of in Harujiku.


Popular fashion seems to be related in some what to this concept of NOT breaking up a face horizontally.  At least this is what the boys in the lab are telling me. a problem for us.

There has been this hope that as VR progresses, the technology will get far better and far, far smaller.  The VR HMD (head mounted displays) of the future will be light and much smaller.  No wires, light weight....  So we'd go from THIS:

To something like.... this?

Or this...

Despite the thin size, our brains aren't particularly thrilled with these images.  The face flow is interrupted.

You might think it was hopeless, as did I, until I came across the work of Duster132 (  When you get a chance take a look at some of his stuff, he almost exclusively deals with designs that have no visible eyes, yet all of them still have the appearance of being able to see. 

I think we can pull this off.  It seems to require molded hmds's that are broken up into uneven surfaces and soft materials intertwined with the hard surfaces.  I don't have all the answers but I'm going to recommend the following guidelines:

  • If you cover the eyes, you need to cover the head.
  • The geometry of the HMD can't be a horizontal line, you need to break it up and possibly introduce some kind of vertical drop, possibly a structure that could house stereo mics.
  • Involve hood scarfs of some kind.
  • The surface of the HMD needs to be varied, a flat plane is about the worst design you could come up with.  (which unfortunately is the current design choice for CV1.)

There is hope!  I hope you enjoyed this look at fashion, I might make it a regular thing! * 

* Once every 20 years sounds about right...

Give me a shout at @ID_R_McGregor  on twitter or send me an email at

Monday 21 September 2015

70 minutes in heaven with Valve's HTC Vive.

You belong to one of two groups.  

Either you received a development kit as a developer and you have unlimited access to a HTC Vive or you need to chase HTC's truck around North America for a shot at a 20 minute demo.

There is currently very little grey area to be found between these two camps.

What DOES exist can be found in private invitations from developers to try out the kits they've been given, something I recently had a chance to do.  I was able to put on HTC's solution and leave it on for a full 90 minutes. *

It made for a hell of an introduction...

* yes, I said 70 minutes in the title, but I was trying to do a "thing" with the title so....

Now.. writing this as I am in late September, I need to be careful not to simply repeat what you've already read many times before.  There have been dozens of great posts at this point describing the HTC Vive experience and I'm quite sure you don't need another one.

Instead, let's fast forward and talk a bit about where some of this "might" be going.

In no particular order....

- - -

Sudden glowing respect for haptics

I have a confession to make.  I've never given haptics much respect.  A controller rumble in my hand never seemed to have much to do with anything I saw on screen, and typically my most commonly felt emotion was annoyance at this crude feedback.

The Vive manage to change all of that in a few short minutes.  A lot of the haptic feedback the controllers seem to give you is in a subtle tap, just a way to let you know that something has touched something else in the world.  I'm now burning with curiosity to know more about how much fine tuning can be done here and what plans might exist for the future.

There's a lot of grumbling about VR and the fact that we can't stop a users from putting their head through a wall and having a look around.

The world isn't solid.  Quite true!  But that might not be the end of the story.

I have a feeling... that through haptics of the kind the Vive has on display... it might be possible to weave together a world that has a subtle resistance to every surface.  If you've ever touched a single strand of spider silk with a finger, you can feel it resist against your touch.  Yes, you can certainly push through it and break it,

 but the thread is most certainly there and you can run your finger along it.  I "think" we can reach a place through haptics where the world actually feels tangible.  The resistance might be very slight but as we come to know it may end up feeling perfectly solid

"Operators", hands and uncanny scale

When running a user through a VR experience, we've traditionally focused on the person wearing the headset, however, inevitably tucked away in a corner, there's a girl or guy running the show in front of a 2D display.  This is the person who cues up the next demo or gently guides the user away from a wall that has crept too close.  Or maybe simply screams profanity at them:

"If you bash my controllers one more f***king time into the wall I swear to GOD I'm going to...." *

* This actually didn't happen during my session, I was exceedingly careful.  It isn't good policy to anger a person while blind and deaf to the world around you.

I should mention that some of the most interesting things happened outside of the traditional demo loop. While I was in the Vive, we had a live Unity3D development session runnin and my host was able to add objects and locations to the scene on the fly.

Without warning I found myself thrown into the middle of a dusty street in a cartoony Western scene with the sun hanging low in the sky.

A few moments later, a revolver appeared in my hand.

All of this was done at the whim of the operator.  If you don't get to wear the headset this turn... maybe you'll be happy to settle for being a God instead.

Anyone remember this bit from bugs bunny?  The one where daffy duck is being toyed with by the bugs bunny the animator?

Turns out, you can do the exact same thing in VR with an operator running the show, and it makes for complete insanity for both parties.

While waving my shiny new gun around, suddenly the revolver barrel was scaled up to the size of small car and...

....the feeling of power was ridiculous.

There's an unexpected gift that comes from being given hands in a simulation.  You've been given a reference point for scale that you never enjoyed before as a disembodied head.  Put your hand next to a lizard, if the lizard is smaller than you thumb... it is small.  If it is bigger than your hand... it is a big lizard.  If it far, far bigger than your hand... it might be a dinosaur.

Smaller than my hand... small lizard.

Bigger than my hand... big lizard....

Much bigger than my hand... probable dinosaur warning issued....

When your hands are represented in virtual space, you have a new appreciation for how big EVERTHING is due to the relative size.  This is especially true for anything that's within arm's length.  Virtual hands provide a very strong anchor to the world, not just through interaction but by working as tool to gauge size and distance.

So.... most importantly - what this means is.... if someone unexpectedly drops a revolver the size Honda civic in your hand, it's going to make an impression....

Depending on your frame of mind, you might start to cackling madly and try to shoot the sun out of the sky.  This I did.

All the laughing, must have gotten annoying for my operator, as just as quickly, my revolver was shrunk down to the size a pack of matches.  Just a tiny, little thing in the palm of my hand, still crisply rendered with the Vive, feeling absolutely real and about as dangerous as a butterfly.

So, you it appears you can take the same 3D model and convey huge impressions about "power" simply through scale.  Pretty damn neat, amazingly effective.

Later, I was thrown into another scene, an endless void of filled with floating cubes.  I appeared in mid air, floating above the infinite.  As I screeched, cursed and started to reel, the operator scrambled to throw a cube under me to serve as a floor for my feet and sanity.  Later, the box was resized and moved around at will by the operator causing me run around the room, desperate to simply stay on it and not to plunge to my death.

There is a GREAT deal of fun involving traditional 2D display users interacting with VR users that is waiting to be tapped.  Just simple cube manipulation and the prospect of falling is enough to be terribly entertaining for both users.

I am convinced there is absolutely no need to VR to be isolating to the user, after my experience I firmly believe that some of the greatest experiences will come from collaborative and competitive interaction between VR users and traditional 2D displays.  I feel that almost all VR experiences will have SOME kind of 2D interface that allow an audience to peer in on the world and possibly participate.

A sudden fetish for objects

Going back to that Western town and the gun I was given.  It was a simple revolver, the sort of thing you might get as part of a $5 set of weapons from the Unity Asset store.  Nothing terribly special.

And yet... I was captivated...

I could turn it over gently and examine it from all sides.  Since it moved so naturally in my hands, it felt overwhelmingly real.  Pointing it at my face out of curiosity*, I could make out the individual waiting bullets in each chamber.  I could not tell you the number of guns I've used in games over the last 20 years, hundreds, but this was the first time I stopped and actually admired the fine details of what I was holding.  It had a bit of writing on one side carved into the metal and I could hold it close and peer at the words to make them out exactly as you would do in real life.

* ...and this is why I don't own a gun.

I just stood there in the middle of the road, slowly turning the gun over in my hand like a unhinged psychopath or proud gunsmith.

Later on I had a chance to try Valve's Longbow simulation.

As I had found with the revolver, I took great pleasure in simply examining the bow in my hands and getting a feel for this "real" thing.  There's a much more personal connection to objects when you can see them rendered clearly and can manipulate them with precision.

Later still, I was standing in the middle of Job Simulator's kitchen, I picked up a knife and wanting to keep it handy, I actually looked for a way to tuck it into my waistband.  It was a very strong and unexpected need, a thought process that's never entered my head before despite the thousands of items and inventories I've managed over the years in games.

I think things are going to go in some unexpected directions.

Since there is so much connection with the "real" objects in the world, and the controls are so fine, I can easily see a kind of hyper realism coming to market in a big way.  Objects will increasingly have all the detail and modeled complexity of their real world counterparts.  There will be a delight in watching the components of a mechanism interact as one would expect and we will quickly become spoiled as we expect new levels of realism.

Some of this will end of being quite fun.

For example, here's a simple game:

You appear in a room.  Scattered around the floor are the following components:

Find them all and put them together before THEY break in.  You actually have to put the gun together in correctly.  Don't know how this model handgun is assembled?  Guess you have a problem...

You have 5 minutes, good luck....

I think there could be a whole set of games that evolve out building mechanical devices to solve problems and there's an audience out there that are going to take a special kind of pride out of knowing HOW thing work and are put together.  Whole new skill sets are going to be used in VR in the name of fun.

Body and soul

Keep an eye out for full body rendering quite soon, it seems like the next logical and necessary step.  You will look down and your body will be very accurately displayed and feel very "there".  Odds are quite good that this profound experience exists behind closed doors right now and will be a centerpiece of innovation in the year to come.  We've already seen examples, but I'm guessing when it hits, it will be REALLY good.

Once you have a body, you can have gear and decoration.  I expect that we might move away from virtual inventories and you'll be strapping things to your virtual self more and more often.

Valve's Longbow

I am going to get specific about a demo for a sec here, and only because in my own reading about Vive experiences it tends not to get mentioned much but for myself it was a really outstanding moment.

Valve's Longbow demo allows you to wield a bow and arrow and shoot at targets.  Now, I've only shot a real bow for an afternoon against paper targets but..... and this is an odd thing to say... I felt that the simulated experience was better.  Here are a few reasons why:

1.  You don't have to retrieve your goddamn arrows after shooting 3 times.  "Where did that last one go?  Over here?  Under this?  Why am I so bad at this?"

2.  While I enjoy the challenge of target practice quite a bit, a physical bow places demands on certain muscle groups that need to work together and not hopelessly fight each other, this requires training, tone and more time than I can commit.

3.  Real arrows make real holes in real things.  If you are learning or have bad aim this is a problem and a danger.  Valve's demo has balloons that rise up and present themselves as targets.  If I did this in real life, people would likely be punctured and come after me unless I hit them in a vital area.

Let me tell you a bit about this experience and it might tell you a bit about how engrossing this whole thing is..... when I first picked up the bow... I spent about a full minute just playing with the string... drawing it back and "feeling" the tension.  Before this demo, I never gave haptics much attention.... rumble feedback on traditional controllers always felt startling and unnecessary.  This single demo changed all of that for me and now I am fascinated.  As you draw back the string, you get slight haptic feedback that convincingly feels like you are placing tension on the bow.  I just stood there for a long time drawing on the string, back and forth, like some kind of psychopath or enthusiastic bowyer.

I didn't even consider firing an arrow for the longest time, it was simply fascinating to watch the arrow interact with the bow.  Maybe I'm easily amused...

Art and Objects

I got down on my hands and knees in Tiltbrush, chose the smallest size brush and scratched on the floor.

"Rob was here."

I was immensely satisfied with the results.  The writing was very, very small and almost impossible to make out when I stood up.  It was this little message that I wrote in my own hand, scratched into the virtual floor in the corner of my virtual space.  Something just for me, a little detail that you'd miss unless you looked for it.

So, in these very early days, we have a tool that has quickly proving that you can make artistic changes to a 3D space as easily and as intuitively as picking up a sharpie and finding a wall.  It is very exciting to think of virtual online games / environments / communities being hubs not just for "fun" but as places where art is being created and added to the world.

There's some fundamental urge in a lot of us to mark up the world around us and it seems like we are just on the verge of tapping into it in a big way.

It seems to follow that tools will rapidly evolve to the point where the act of crafting something in a simulation is just as common as destruction is now.


Hand input is compelling to such an extent that I don't think there is much of a future for any platform that does not make this an absolute priority to "get right".  Turns out, humans need to bring our body along in order to be fully present and accept a world as being "real".  Hands are the brain's our envoys to the world both real and virtual.

Give me a shout at @ID_R_McGregor  on twitter or send me an email at

Saturday 8 August 2015

The Myth of Virtual Reality

Let me try to write something here that's been bothering me for a couple of years now.  I've attempted to write a post on it a few times but always ended up thinking it was too self indulgent.  There's always a danger when you write that you are doing it for the simple pleasure of hearing your own self prattle on.  That's probably the case here, but it's a Saturday morning, I just made coffee and you've been warned.

All due respect and accomplishments aside:

 "Thanks for nothing, Jaron Lanier!"

Jaron Lanier is accredited with coining the term "Virtual Reality" almost 30 years ago, and I believe the name has done the technology a great disservice over the long run. Yes, he gets full marks for finding a term that fires the imagination but... man.... talk about setting a technology up for failure...

Damn it Jaron.  Why??!?!

Let me give you a few examples of making common technology instantly dissatisfying by renaming it to something that contains lofty promise:

Hand Twin

Electric Motion Paper

Mind Expander
Ridiculous right?  These would make terrible names for practical devices that help our lives and represent core components in computing.  Names like these might set unreasonably high expectations in terms of what they can do.  A monitor isn't paper, nor a mouse a hand, but they are all terribly useful devices with their own unique strengths.  A mouse is far more precise than your hand for certain tasks, a monitor has infinitely more possibility than a printed page etc.... you get the point...

Pretty silly right? That's why I'm so glad that we live in a world where we are above such...


...well..... shit.

Jaron Lanier, must be a certified genius because he really could not have stacked the deck against VR much worse than  choosing this as the name for a fledgling technology.  With enough time and energy you might conceivable come up with a device that is even better than print or a manipulator that might give the human hand a run for its money, but here we are faced with reproducing reality as a whole.  Brilliantly talented as our hardware and software wizards are, it really doesn't quite seem fair.


What's in a name?  

Maybe a great deal.

Does it really matter?

Yes, I think it just might.

- - -

I think this name might just have condemned the whole VR industry to forever carry with it a need to grovel and apologize on some basic level.

NAMELESS VR CEO - "Yeah, we are pretty happy with this iteration after a billion invested in research, we really nailed the optics and input... of course it isn't as good as reality yet but... maybe some day... um, we'll keep working on it.  Next year... " - hangs head and walks off stage.

It reminds me a bit of the same kind of problems we face with space travel.  Endless dissatisfaction with were we are in our progress.  Oh, you landed on the moon, great.  What about mars?  Made it to mars, fine.  Why aren't we living there?  Oh, and what are you doing about that asteroid problem I just saw a movie about, are you on top of that?

I'm such a failure.  (image via this odd source)

Now, I'm going to point my finger at the name and I am also going to point my finger at the industry as a whole for making things worse by trying to live up to this name.  I am also going to hold the name responsible for clouding industry minds and enabling weird stuttering responses to the simple question of:

"What is this technology going to be used for?"

See, when you've set up this unreasonable expectation that VR will transport you to a different reality, it is then a bit hard to transition to a practical conversation about a business use case in the same breath.

"You'll feel like you are actually there, you heart will race and you will will forget you are standing in your office............ while you review Q1 projections in VR."

If you talk about a device having properties to transcend reality and confuse the senses then it gets hard, really hard to talk about it real world terms.

Let's throw out all the fantasy and take a hard look at what we've built and why it is important.

I think we all need to stop and take a breath for a moment and reassess where we are trying to go.

- - -

If you've been following the industry for the past few years, you'll see a few acronyms being flung around, usually at high speed and with an intent to maim their targets.

 • SDE (screen door effect - can you discern pixels in the HMD?)
 • FOV (field of view - how much of the simulation fills your vision.)

You'll often see comments along these lines:

"Pretty pronounced SDE with this HMD, I could see the pixels and it really kept reminding me that this wasn't real."

"The FOV must have been around 100 degrees or so, it took me right out of the experience and I could easily tell I wasn't really flying, nor was I an eagle.  Disappointing."

"The motion controls perfectly tracked my movement in space, no matter how hard I tried to throw it off, it's exactly like my hands in space, except I don't have fingers?  Why don't they give me fingers? I clearly have them on my hands so obviously I need them here too."

In other words:  <blah blah blah> ....Sorry, I could tell it wasn't real.

This is really just setting us up for nothing but an endless pit of iterative disappointment.

- - -

We are stuck with the name though.  it's been around for a good long while and won't be going anywhere soon. Unless perhaps.... we can quietly co-opt the VR acronym over time.  Run a campaign of guerrilla warfare on nomenclature.  I've recently noted that Valve's Alan Yates (the designer behind the HTC Vive's lighthouse system) has been using the term "Volumetric Display" during his more pensive moments:

Which is pretty spot on in terms of where we are going if you take a look at the corresponding definition in Wikipedia:

Tip:  Running a google image search on the term "volumetric display" never disappoints if you are looking for some daily inspiration.


Ok, so that might be a good stand in for our "V", what about the "R"?  I'm not going to struggle on this too much so I'll put the word "representation" down on the board, using chalk so that it can easily be replaced.  I actually like the word representation, as that's what most computing deals with, its just a fancy extrapolation of those cave drawings slapped on the wall by early man.

Really you want a term that will cover the whole VR ecosystem, from the displays to the various manipulators and control devices.  "Volumetric Representation" nice and general and embraces all of these devices:



So, let's pretend now, on this quiet Saturday morning, that we want to redefine VR as not standing for "Virtual Reality" but rather for "Volumetric Representation".  (I realize this is all very indulgent, but I did warn you to be fair.)

Let's compare how this feels now with a pop quiz:

1) My HTC Vive wand is a:

A.  Virtual reality hand.
B.  A volumetric representation of my hand.
C.  This blog post is too long.

2)  When I use Oculus Touch to manipulate my company data, I think I am...

A.  Losing myself in a new reality that is virtual.
B.  Working with data represented volumetrically.
C.  I hate spreadsheets and would never do this.

3)  When I play games, I am looking for:

A.  A new reality to in place of the one I was born into.
B.  The most immersive experience I can get.
C.  I don't play games and prefer spreadsheets.

I can't speak for everyone out there, but I've never looked to VR as something that would one day effectively replace my reality.  I've already got enough reality to last me a lifetime.

Rather, I see VR as the ultimate tool for surrounding myself with what I have always loved.  I want VR to give me more time by connecting me immediately to the things I care about most.  Let me work with representations of things rather than cluttering up my home with physical objects.  Let me keep track of the people in my life and connect with them in a shared computing space.  Let me wander through data and media with the same fascination I might have picking my way through Tokyo or New Delhi.

This isn't a new reality, this is simply the next extension of the treasured experience computers have already been providing us for years.  Let's embrace it for the wonder that it is rather than disparage it for what isn't.

My coffee has run out so I'll leave off here.  Lucky you.

Give me a shout at @ID_R_McGregor on Twitter, or send me an email at or leave a comment below.

Thursday 16 July 2015

AKIRA in VR. (aka, working with large illustrated novels in VR.)

Hey folks,

Spent a little time on working with a large collection of comics / illustrations in VR and this was the results.  My primary interest is working with large bodies of materials and quickly being able to find a particular point of interest by visually looking for it in a 3D space.  VR obviously helps with this immensely.  It also allows you to fluidly get very close to each work in a way that isn't very natural when dealing with the images in a traditional 2D desktop.

Most importantly, it's pretty cool to be able to surf a few thousand pages of illustration like a sparrow hawk.

[note: works best if you play it back full screen, to get a tiny sense of what it's like in VR.]

You can find me @ID_R_McGregor on twitter, or send me an email at

Friday 10 April 2015

Marketing VR in the year 2016 - Beyond Imagination

Let's travel to the future friends, take my hand and let's go visit the year:

<<< 2016 >>>

The sights and sounds in this time may be loud and confusing to you, do try to stay calm and not give yourself away as a visitor from such a deprived and backwards time as 2015.


I've been thinking about VR's commercial launch.   Not cardboard.  Not a developer kit, no.  I mean the honest to God, real deal, commercial release.  

A real box sitting on a shelf at a real store that you can exchange money for and they let you take home.  The kind of release that might involve line ups at midnight around the block, five minute rambles on the local news and hopeful, happy children eyeing large packages under the tree on Christmas day. *

The Gear VR should not be used by children under the age of 13.  Adults should monitor children (age 13 and older) who are using or have used the Gear VR for any of the symptoms described below, and should limit the time children spend using the Gear VR and ensure they take breaks during use.  Prolonged use should be avoided, as this could negatively impact hand-eye coordination, balance, and multi-tasking ability. Adults should monitor children closely during and after use of the Gear VR for any decrease in these abilities. We think its actually probably fine and there's research that points to this being safe but God, what if we were to actually maim someone young?  Young people live for a long time, so if you need to compensate them for lost potential salary over a lifetime, geez, that's bloody expensive.  If the product just kill people outright, like say, a bicycle, we probably would not need to include this message on everything we touch.

To glimpse what that this strange, alien world might look like, we might start by taking a look at the closest thing we have to retail VR today, Samsung / Oculus's Gear VR.

There it is, sitting at Best Buy right now.  You can go buy it.  Now.  You can buy VR right now!

Right from the start I want to give Samsung and Oculus a giant amount of credit for getting this far.  They've not only succeeded in making this happen, but they've been handed the enormously delicate task of selling retail VR to the general public, something that's never really been tackled so far at this level.  Ever.

I want to talk about just that, that alien, new task of pitching VR to consumers.  In 2016, when someone climbs into their car to go "buy VR" what do we want them to be thinking?

Let's start by taking a close look at the message that Samsung's / Oculus has out there today.

If you sit down and type in "Gear VR" into Google, the first or second link will take you to a Gear VR page hosted by Samsung.  Excellent SEO, great positioning!

And then...

I.... I have so many questions.

First off, let me be clear that I suspect that a lot of what is written here is by a non-native English speaker.  If you have command of a second or third language, I commend you and applaud you and I don't want to poke at work done under this context. These bits of text would have been challenge to nail properly in using a first language, I would hate to attempt it in a second or third.

So if pokes at being made, they are being made at Samsung and its vast array of resources failing to properly be brought to bear on these thirty six words that greet each visitor.

Here's a line by line break down, because - hey why not?

"Beyond Imagination" - this is the title, written in large font, so it must be pretty important.  As a consumer, this is a bit of a throw away line and I roughly interpret it to mean that "You there, should be excited about this thing and this thing is even better than you expect it will be because you can't even begin to imagine how great it really is."

It gets applied to a great deal of products out there quite liberally:

After a number of years of being targeted as a consumer from every conceivable angle, I think most of us swim along through text and such hyperbole like this just flows past us without even really registering.

Or maybe it's great marketing. I don't know.  Kind of feels like an apple picked off the ground. <shrug>

"Simpler way to enjoy immersive experience" - Many questions about this line.  What are the other immersive experiences and how is this simpler?  Why is it simpler?

I'm going out on a limb and guessing that traditional movies and games are the "less simple" immersive experiences that are being compared here.  Maybe?  Or maybe, I could get on a plane and travel to Africa and immerse myself in a lion safari, deal with bot flies, and THAT would be less simple than using Gear VR.  This line leaves a whole lot of guess work up to the consumer.

I've given it some thought and the most favorable interpretation that I can think of might be to say:  "Hey folks, wearing this thing is like being in a movie theater, but instead of driving to the movie theater, sitting down with strangers and waiting for the movie to start, you just put it on and press a button.  Much Simpler".

I've heard the phrase "A movie theater in your pocket." tossed around and I think it's great. Everyone gets it immediately.

"Find your look with the shiver colored frames" - Oh the third line.  Boy. Are we only on the third line?  It's a doozy.

By the third line, we are making a direct appeal to fashion, which would be way, way, way, way, way, way, way down on my list of key points when trying to market the current crop of HMDs.

  I don't know what a "shiver colored" anything actually is, which I suspect might be failing on my part, as fashion has never been my forte.  This might well be a valiant attempt at the word "silver" by some Korean writer or (based on some laborious and painstaking research I just did), might be referring to a glossy look that's common in the world of women's nail polish.  Or maybe shampoo, or maybe anything from L'Oreal.

I... I'm trying to play along here as best I can.


Elvive Nourish & Shimmer  (Hey, Vive!)

Shimmer is a big thing apparently

It actually does kind of shimmer so.. maybe...

"Find your look" makes me think that I can customize the experience in some way, it is something I'd expect to find attached to branding surrounding Apple's current watch campaign and the different watch straps, faces etc.  As far as I know, when you are wearing Gear VR, there really is only two looks you can possibly get.

If you are a model, with good lighting, you get this look:

Everyone else gets this look:

The "look" might not be the primary motivator to use in encouraging people to buy.  Again though, I'm still learning about fashion though, so don't take my word for it.

"Experience the virtual reality with Gear VR's ergonomic design." 

This product allows me to experience "the" virtual reality and it is ergonomic, OK, good!  Fine!  That's fine!  Great!

Everyone likes ergonomic design, it's never, um, the most exciting bullet point on a list..... but it's always welcome and without it, I always assume that the product will be unergonomic which I certainly can't get behind.  

Too bad there's nothing in that sentence that's terribly exciting... Oh WAIT, what's this virtual reality thing?  Can you tell me more about that?  I saw this great movie once about this blond guy who liked comic books and it had Pierce Brosnan... and oh... no?  We are moving on?  No time?  Oh.  OK, then.  

"VR incorporates soft and flexible cushioning for the ultimate comfort design."

It is comfortable and soft.  Can't go wrong with that!  Very exciting!  

Wait.... hold on...

VR is soft and flexible?  I'm confused.  VR stands for... um.... virtual reality, right?  I just really want to know a bit more about this "virtual reality" that my son Billy was talking about the other day and .... oh.... moving on again?  oh......


So.  I'm nitpicking.  I know, but I feel that all of this is actually terribly important to get right, especially when a company is taking a swing at a whole new market for the first time.

None of these lines educate me on what this product actually does.  Or if you can't manage that, at least hint at how it might make me feel and don't tell me it's COMFORTABLE, I'm already comfortable, let's aim a little higher, shall we?

After reading it, as a consumer I might walk away, thinking this is:

"Something that I can't imagine, that is simpler than other immersive experiences that aren't mentioned. It is comfortable and ergonomic and, oh, it also let's me experience something called virtual reality.....  whatever that is."

Let's break away for a moment and look at another retail product that is looking to cash in on the valuable real estate of your face.

If you like to ski and have $649.95 dollars, Oakley has a par of sky goggles for you.  Here is how they present them:

Now, Oakley makes it's living on trying to project an image of "cool".  Image is terribly important to this brand, they live and die by it, so I'm not sure if this is a fair fight BUT I think we can learn something from this example.

First off "AIRWAVE" is pretty cool.  You've your air and you got your waves, both of which are.... pretty unassailable, elemental forces.  This is up against Samsung's Gear line, which at best conjures a mechanical gear in my mind:

Everyone loves gears. (just watch your fingers... I mean arm... I mean... head... I mean God, just take a big step back man!!!)
Or at worst camping:

Yeay!  Camping! 

Neither camping or mechanical gears really spark my imagination when it comes to a device that is supposed to spark my imagination.  Don't even get me started on "Samsung Gear VR Innovator Edition, Powered by Oculus" or SGVRIEPBO.

"Technology that Delivers the Goods, Straight to Your Brain.".  Jesus, that's pretty good.  It's high tech, the word "Goods" nicely skips around the problem that we don't know quite exactly know what VR is going to be used for and "Straight to your Brain" well, that's... that's just like heroine! Everyone can appreciate that kind of intensity.  Right?


And then the best part, the best part is the smaller, descriptive text that lays out the following proposition:

You are a person that does awesome and interesting things that you enjoy.  Here is something that will make it even more awesome and enjoyable.

And you know what?  That's pretty damn unassailable too.

What a great approach for a company that wants to introduce and sell a product to a market in a safe way.  Here's what Samsung could have written:

"Hey you. We hear you like to play games, we hear you like to watch movies, we hear you like to carry a mobile phone.  We hear you like to do ALL of these things and still be able to walk around town and be social.  Welp, good news people.  If you've got a phone*, legs and $200 dollars, we can make all of these experiences a thousand times better."

*Galaxy Note 4 required, we dearly hope this is what you have, otherwise, you've screwed all of this up for yourself.  SCREWED it ALL up!

DONE.  That's the message, that's something that everyone will get and understand.  Here are the things you like and we can make them all better.

For the rest of it, I'd keep it concrete and again, simple:

  • Watch a movie, just like being at a movie theater.
  • Go on Safari, and feel like the lions are about to kill you and your guide during the aggressive and territorial mating season.
  • Don't settle playing games on a lousy 5.7 inch (143.9mm) Quad HD Super AMOLED (2560×1440) display, actually step into the games and look around.
  • Etc, etc, etc.
You can excite the reader about what the product can do and you can start to educate them on what this whole virtual reality thing is about at the same time.

But then you say...."Wait!  Hold on!  Shut up!  Stop focusing on this narrow example."

OK. Let's look at some videos.

Samsung did a bang up job a few years back with their video campaign aimed at switching entrenched Apple users over to Galaxy phones.  It went over so well that they must have some pretty top minds working in their video marketing wing and they undoubtedly do.  Let's take a look.

They say that video is one of the most effective marketing tools currently available and Samsung has two videos that focus on Gear VR that I know of.  If I've missed one, please lemme know.

Video One: Gear VR -- First Look

"The world of virtual reality is finally here.  The Samsung Gear VR Innovator edition.  Powered by Oculus and the Galaxy Note 4."

I'm pretty happy with a lot of what is said in this video.  They talk about games and movies being experienced in new ways.  That's great.

The video is intended to demonstrate what using the Gear VR is like.  They've gone to a lot of trouble to drop the user and host into a room where the background neatly fades out and is replaced by what the user is seeing in VR through the Gear.  It is slick and well produced and I watched it and then rewatched it, and watched it again and again and again because troubled by something and too dumb to pick up on it right away.

It's completely backwards.

The backdrop is supposed to show us what the user is seeing, but...

  • The user is facing away from what they are supposed to be seeing.  Yes, this is done so that we can see their reactions but, no, it sets up a horrible disconnect between their body and their vision and our response to looking at both.
  • The image, kinda, sorta, moves as they do...kinda approximately, but in the movements are reflected in the wrong axis. (user looks left, image moves right).  Turn him around and this would look AOKish.

  • Sometimes the background image does NOT move at all with the user, which is a real shame since that seems to be rather central to the presentation.  I mean... isn't that why you brought us to this fancy room in the first place?  This man sees another world through this device, come see what he sees, this is the whole point, right?  Right?
Wow...... this is neato... wait, what's going on?

  • Remember, the whole idea here is to demonstrate that this puts you in the middle of the action and that everywhere you look you vision is filled with a different reality.  Really important to follow through with this central point consistently.

  • I can HEAR people having fun....

    At worst, it looks like our poor central guy is confused, sad and missing the show completely...

    Video Two: Gear VR Demonstration

    I feel like Samsung brought out the big guns for this video.  It's a prime time quality spot filled with fun people in fun settings but it's also REAL people and that's what consumers want to see these days.

    I have to say then, that I was more than a little surprised when the the title shot of the video opens on this:

    Our spokesman has the Gear VR against his face and has not bothered with the straps, in fact they are sorta crammed against his face as well.  For an advert for a head MOUNTED display, I find this a curious choice.  He isn't alone either as the same thing happens again a little later on in the video.

    Maybe this isn't a big deal.  Maybe this is how "the kids are wearin it" these days.  I dunno.  I'm not sure if it exactly screams " ergonomic comfort" to me, which is apparently one of their important bullet points they want to impress upon you.  When you take away the straps too, you start to get into real shaky ground as to what this product is all about.. we start to get dangerously close to....  this is a VERY expensive and unwieldy case territory.

    Somebody at least took the time to make the VR view look better in these shots, which is nice, can you feel the difference?

    Virtual Reality:

    Lonely, blind, sadness:

    The rest of the video is great, it has the upbeat tune in the background, everyone is happy and amazed, the host has a great smile.  Everyone is very self assured and well adjusted.  What's not to like?

    My only other gripe would be this shot [below].  The lady ends up wanting to talk to the host and takes off the headset to make eye contact.  Horrors.  

    Two problems.

    Problem one:  Gear VR needs to be portrayed as GREAT in social situations.  There is no need to take off the Gear VR to talk to someone*, keep it on your head and enjoy yourself.  Look at this man below and the eight girls that are sitting with him.  Having a great time here, no need for eye contact with these ladies.

    * except for thousands of years of social conditioning

    Problem two:  I would never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever show someone taking off the headset, it's like showing someone get OUT of the car in a car commercial.  You go IN, you NEVER ever get out.

    The only exception to this rule would be this guy who simply could not be more satisfied with everything he just experienced.  If there's a "satiated" look for VR, this would be it:
    I wonder how many takes it took to get this shot?

    I'll leave you with this.  It's the most compelling video that I've come across that makes me want to run out and buy a Gear VR.  It's shot with a handy cam, does not talk about Quad HD Super AMOLED, does not show any of the features or screens.  It just sits back and shows you real reactions to amazing technology.  In the age of Youtube and reality TV this is there nerve that you need to strike, the product is amazing, let it do its work on the people and don't get in the way of it.  If there's anything that IS really needed, it is in educating the consumer what all of this is about and how it can improve their lives, the rest will sell itself.

    (While you watch this video, as a class exercise, recall the original Gear First Look video and compare your gut response.)

    Yeah, this one.

    Note:  If it turns out that Samsung actually funded this video, I'd be the first to give them a standing ovation on clever and effective marketing.

    Give me a shout at @ID_R_McGregor on twitter, or send me an email at