VR Skeptic: Making VR Comfortable with Apple TV

We are still in the early days of virtual reality. Just as in the early days of manned flight, this is a time of experimentation.

flight_vs_VR

Current VR experiments resemble early manned flight experiments

What do we wear on our heads? Helmets? Goggles? Contact lenses? Or do we simply walk into a cave or dome or tank? What do we wear or hold in our hands? Game controllers? Wands? Glowing microphones? Bracelets, armbands, and rings? Or do we just flap our arms in the breeze? Do we sit? Stand? Walk on a treadmill? Ride a bike? Or do we wander about bumping into furniture and each other?

As a person who prefers to go through life in a reclining position, most of these options seem like too much bother. I have a hard time imagining how VR could become ubiquitous in the enterprise if employees have to constantly pull on complicated headgear, or tether themselves to some contraption, or fight for access to an expensive VR cave. VR in the workplace must be ergonomic, safe, and easy to use even before you’ve had your morning coffee.

Lately I’ve been enjoying VR content, goggle-free, from the comfort of my lazyboy using an Apple TV app called Littlstar. Instead of craning my head back and forth, I just slide my thumb to and fro on the Apple remote. I can fly through the air and swim with the dolphins without working up a sweat or stepping on a cat.

Selection screen for VR content on Littstar Apple TV app

Selection screen for VR content on Littstar Apple TV app

To be clear: watching VR content on TV is NOT real VR. It’s nowhere near as immersive. But the content is the same and the experience is surprisingly good. Navigation is actually better: because it is effortless I am more inclined to keep looking around.

The Apple remote strikes me as the perfect VR controller. It is light as a feather, easy to hold, lets you pan and drag and click and zoom, and you can operate it blindfolded.

Watching VR content on TV also makes it easier to share. Small groups of people can navigate a virtual space together in comfort. One drawback: it’s fun to be the person “driving,” but abrupt movements can make everyone else a tad queazy.

What works in the living room might also work well at a desk – or in a meeting room. TVs are already replacing whiteboards and projection screens in many workplaces. And the central innovation of the fourth generation, Apple TV, the TV app, creates a marketplace to evolve new forms of group interaction. I expect there will be a whole class of enterprise TV apps someday.

For all these reasons, I have been pushing to create Apple TV app counterparts to the VR apps we are starting to build in the AppsLab. TV counterparts could make it easier to show prototypes in design meetings and customer demos. I feel validated by Tawny’s (@iheartthanniereport from GDC that Sony has adopted a similar philosophy.

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Screenshot from an early AppsLab Apple TV app

Thanks to one of our talented developers, Os (@vaini11a), we already have one such prototype. It doesn’t do much yet; we are just figuring out how to display desktop screens in a VR environment. With goggles on I can use the VR app to spin from screen to screen in my office chair and look down at my feet to change settings. With the Apple TV counterpart app, I can do exactly the same thing without moving anything other than my thumb.

It’s still too early to predict how ubiquitous VR might become in the workplace or how we will interact with it. But TV apps, or something like them, may become one way to view virtual worlds in comfort.

AboutJohn Cartan

I am a designer, inventor, and writer currently working as a Senior Design Architect in the Oracle User Experience Emerging Technologies group.

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