Ever since the Oculus Rift was announced back in 2012, virtual reality has seen a furious rise in interest, culminating in a number of VR headsets flooding the market. Entry level models such as the Google Cardboard have helped bring attention to the booming VR scene, while enthusiast models such as the aforementioned Oculus Rift have been released, showcasing just how powerful and immersive virtual reality is. Despite a growing number of apps and support available for virtual reality, it's still seen as a gaming accessory, which has stopped it from being widely accepted by the mainstream. That all changes this year, however, with the newest advances in VR technology. Here are three ways VR is set to make a big splash in 2017.
In late 2016, Alibaba tested uncharted waters when it announced the world’s first virtual reality shopping experience on China's larger-than-life equivalent to Black Friday, Singles' Day. Alibaba released an app for the occasion called BUY+ that allowed users to browse products such as shoes and shopping bags presented by virtual models. In a video released by the company to promote the app, it showed a Chinese shopper trying on a VR headset and immediately getting transported to Macy's department store in Times Square, where he was greeted by store employees and was able to buy a handbag for his girlfriend.
It makes sense why online retailers are starting to take a look at VR as a way to boost sales. Research has shown online retailers enjoy a sales conversion of just 5%, compared to 25% for brick-and-mortar stores. For all the positives of online shopping, people still like trying out products before they buy. VR aims to solve that problem by simulating a brick-and-mortar shopping experience from the comfort of the user's home. It's no wonder why Amazon has been rumored to take the next steps towards integrating VR with their service.
One of the most engrossing experiences available on VR today, virtual tourism is expected to take on a bigger role in 2017, especially in schools and universities, where VR has become an alternative to expensive class trips. Tourism with VR technology allows users to "visit" historical and iconic sites across the world, from the Eiffel Tower to the Pyramids of Giza. A growing number of apps have hit the virtual tourism market, including Ascape and YouVisit.
3D design on VR is about to receive a huge shakeup this year. Kickstarter-funded Gravity Sketch is a tool that allows users to bring their concepts to life with a simple wave of the hand. By creating concept sketches in air, the tool aims at creating a simple, user-friendly alternative to math-based CAD. Gravity Sketch was recently released to the public in a beta version available for PC and iOS.
After years of being on the periphery of the tech world, virtual reality is finally ready to breakout and hit the mainstream in a way that hasn't been seen since the rise of the smartphone. Backed by tremendous support from all corners of the technology world, expect 2017 to be the year of virtual reality.