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Virtual reality (VR) has had its ups and downs over the last few decades, but all signs point to 2016 as a watershed year for VR entering the mainstream of consumer technologies, as we highlighted in this year’s Tech Trends 2016. Facebook’s purchase of Oculus will finally bear fruit this year with the release of its first commercial product. Not to be left behind, Samsung, HTC and Google will release (or have already released) new virtual reality products or updates to existing ones. So as virtual reality reaches its pinnacle turning point, how can focusing on the user experience (UX) ensure consumers will embrace and adopt this exciting new technology with ease and enjoyment?
A major challenge for virtual reality from a UX perspective is how users interact with the technology. The input and interactions of virtual reality differ greatly from nearly every interface to come before it due to the fact that the user cannot see his or her own hands nor an input device (e.g., mouse, keyboard, gamepad, et cetera).
The stakes for getting the UX of VR right are potentially even higher than with a website or mobile app. Any frustrations or difficulties with physically controlling or inputting selections in a virtual reality platform are magnified as the user is operating within an isolated environment and, in extreme cases, could even cause disorientation or motion sickness.
Many manufacturers are designing creative solutions to tackle these problems:
At this point, most manufacturers are still working out the kinks and refining how their VR products should be controlled. User input is critical throughout the development of these new interaction models to ensure the end product will be successful. What works on one VR platform might not work on another; the wide range of device classes may even demand their own interaction models. The controls and input methods of virtual reality on a smartphone are likely to be very different than that of a virtual reality on a desktop computer.
There is no crystal ball to see what UX practices will work best for virtual reality; however, it doesn’t take a crystal ball to see that incorporating the feedback and experiences of real users into the development will help to ensure a much more satisfying and enjoyable VR experience and, ultimately, consumer adoption.
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