I'm a partner in the advanced analytics group at Bain & Company, the global management consulting firm. My primary focus is on marketing analytics (bio). I've been writing here (views my own) about marketing, technology, e-business, and analytics since 2003 (blog name explained).

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January 04, 2016

My 2016 Prediction: The (First Serious) Year of #VR

In case you missed it, Facebook's Oculus announced today that it starts taking pre-orders for its Rift VR headset on Wednesday.

Serious predictions include objectively verifiable outcomes and clear deadlines. As reported in Fortune, Piper Jaffray's Travis Jakel forecasted in May of 2015  that a little over 12 million VR headsets would be sold in 2016, with Oculus accounting for about a quarter of them. (The report is very thorough, well-worth reading.)

How reasonable is this bet?

The most popular benchmark is likely to be the iPhone:

Statistic: Global Apple iPhone sales from 3rd quarter 2007 to 4th quarter 2015 (in million units) | Statista
(Find more statistics at Statista)

Oculus (and competition) has been around for about three years. By year three post its Q3 2007 launch (so Q3'09-Q2'10, the iPhone (alone) logged ~31M units. Android phone unit sales exploded similarly

Some arguments to calibrate Jankel's estimate versus the iPhone benchmark:

  • con: Phones were around before the iPhone, so the category was already established and iPhone was an easier to grasp / adopt improvement on separate pre-existing technologies (phone+PDA+laptop)
    • perhaps, but content is also a pre-existing category and VR just represents a Magic Leap ahead
  • con: Communication's "need to have"; VR's "nice to have"
    • maybe, but iPhone sold 30 million units only a year after the '08 crash
  • con: "The technology's not there yet"
    • Latency -- sub 20 millisecond refresh rate when you move your eyes, or >60-90 FPS capture rate for video -- seems to be the main issue
    • Most people don't have a PC fast enough to render graphics at this rate, for interactive content
    • Capture's expensive and complicated, but folks are working on this (e.g., 360fly camera)
  • con: Content's still limited, will be a drag on adoption
    • true, but expect furious investment at all levels of sophistication here in 2016; authoring tools are surprisingly more available and affordable than I imagined they'd be
  • pro: Travel's perceived to be riskier, more people will prefer to do it virtually
  • pro: People learn better when shown than told

I conclude he's got the order of magnitude right.  But I haven't tried the new Rift headset yet, so I'm inclined to be a little conservative (Caveat emptor: I was conservative about Facebook, too).  Put me down for between 9-11 million (non-"cardboard") VR headsets sold in 2016. (If you've found a prediction market for this, let me know!). What's your guess?

link to my poll if you have an adblocker and can't see it here

What should you do?

If you're an individual on a tight budget, get Google Cardboard or something like it, to begin to get an inkling of the VR experience. Here are some videos you can check out. (Of course, watching is only the tip of the iceberg...)

If you're a potential author -- educator, entertainer, marketer -- it's probably a good idea to brainstorm users and use cases in the first half of 2016. If you convince yourself that some make sense for you, you might commission 1-2 $10-50k pilots for the back half of the year.  Because 2017's going to be the year your boss and your board ask what your "VR strategy" is.

It's not unprecedented.





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