I'm not going back on why virtual reality, promised for twenty years, is still not here (the technology is ready, but there's no scalable problem to solve). But lately, I've been thinking a lot about how slow infrastructure changes create fast-paced market transformations.
Probing this line of thinking more and more and going back to mixed reality technologies (both AR and VR), I'm starting to wonder if we haven't been too literal with these ideas. What if the visual layer was, in reality, not so important, and that audio was the real virtual reality layer? The one we keep ignoring despite its rise to supremacy in the last five years.
And I'm not talking music streaming or vinyl revival, but... AirPods.
I understand you might find it funny that what seems an utterly simple device (it's not) could be seen as a fierce competitor to mixed reality goggles. But you might overlook a simple fact: if AirPods were a separate business from Apple, it would be a standalone Fortune 30 company floating between JP Morgan Chase and General Motors.
But why such success if music is not the core reason? Where's the extensive content unlock in play here? It seems to be podcasts. In just a few years, we reached a point where 40% of US adults are listening to podcasts every month.
And the ad industry is starting to notice pushing 3% of the global ad revenues in this media – the Joe Rogan Experience alone generates a yearly $30m in direct ad revenues.
However, the lack of interaction doesn't fit the future promised by VR. While navigating the street by GPS and just listening to audio directions, is technically possible (even in spatial audio), no one really cares. It's at best a useful feature for people with disabilities, but not a groundbreaking killer app. In any case, even if they didn't have the promised VR flying cars, some of the gaps are filled and the market is evolving around this.
Definitely a story of dealing with your expectations on what innovation – the change in the market – will be in practice.
Such as this one in 2015 ⤵️
Meanwhile, this is where the largest company involved in visual + audio VR is stuck at:
Update: And right on queue this morning ⤵️