For a long time, virtual reality as considered something that never really lived up to its promise. It was nowhere as good as what we saw on “Tron” Legacy”. Ill-fated attempts to jump into computer screens have more often than not ended with the person waking up. Enter Oculus Rift and everything changed – a Kickstarter funded virtual reality hardware eventually went on to be purchased by Facebook for a whopping sum of 2 billion dollars. The floodgates were opened and virtual reality became the in-thing. All of a sudden, the technology began developing at an unprecedented rate and are set to take over all aspects of our lives in a decade or so.
Even the internet?
From the looks of it, 2D web is set to become more interactive. Take Wikipedia, for instance – instead of reading about the pyramids in historical order, imagine how great it would be if you could wander around in them and read an annotated history as you navigate the space. Designers can integrate it with a game – wouldn't it be cool if you had to solve a puzzle to gain entry to the pharaoh's tomb? You can even have a virtual guide of our own who accompanies you and narrates the history behind the pyramids and answer all the questions you have. To top it off, this could be accompanied by ambient sound that transports you to the real place.
Let's say you are browsing Amazon for a wedding dress. Wouldn't it be great if you could try it on and see how it looks in 3D? You can even use multiple avatars, and compare them to see which dress looks the best, make your choice and have it delivered to you in just one day. How about taking a tour of a virtual car dealer, where you get to test drive the car with the help of a simulation, tweak your seat to see what suits you and get it delivered to where you live. Does it sound like science fiction? Well, 30 years ago, the internet was nothing but a distant pipe-dream. If someone told you forty years ago that you could watch the Olympic with a virtual reality headset, you would be just laughing at them.
Although the hardware for this transformation is in its early stages, it has arrived. 360-degree cameras, HD cameras, VR handsets and super-fast processors are ushering in a new revolution. Although they are still pricey, sluggish and bulky as of this writing, the adoption rate is set to rise, and the hardware will eventually get smaller, faster and cheaper.
The players and the game
Regular customers have a lot of VR options to choose from as well. PlayStationVR can also be pre-ordered. If you are in a rush, you can get Oculus Rift for just 600 dollars. If you are looking for a cheaper alternative, you can always go with Samsung gear, which can be bought for as low as 99 dollars. If you already own a Galaxy, then you can experience virtual reality for the cost of two high-quality phone cases. For the more budget conscious among you, Google Cardboard is a great option as it costs just 15 dollars. If you want to get more creative, you can build your own VR headset.
As a matter of fact, it is possible for you to browse the virtual web right now. Just go to the Janus Browser, and you get a test version of how the web will look in the future. Janus Reddit is so much fun to navigate that it will end up taking at least a few hours of your time.
Go over to MozVr, browse the showcased projects on the site, and prepare to shake your head in disbelief at the kind of progress that has been made over a very short time. After you are done you would understand that the only way forward is to hire a web designer who can design a site for VR because without a doubt that is the direction in which our digital selves seem to be moving.
Getting back to what we were talking about, most of the aforementioned projects are done with A-Frame, which is currently the go-to open source framework for creating VR experiences with HTML. It was created with the intention of making VR accessible to developer across the world, and jumpstart the content ecosystem for WebVR. A-Frame is readily compatible with a lot of pre-existing tools and frameworks.
Are things set for a complete overhaul?
Although the current simulations are a far cry from the virtual Amazon that we described towards the beginning of this article, we are collaboratively moving ahead in that direction. At this point, one thing needs to be made clear. There is no guarantee that we will have a virtual web. Unlike entertainment, or games, where VR has already started to make inroads, a functional VR web is a far more complex ecosystem. While there could be individual sites that offer an interactive VR version of their site to set themselves apart from the crowd, most of the sites will stick to a 2D version of their site that floats around in a 3D environment.
And make no mistake, this will not work. The standard monitor is 15 inches away from the user's face, with the UI elements right in front. All that is needed to focus on a particular UI element is a slight movement of the eye. But when it comes to virtual reality, the entire canvas becomes the environment. There is no bottom, top, right or left to the canvas. Theoretically, the user just has to move his/her head a little to the side for additional canvas. You can artificially come up with a frame so that you can align all the notifications and icons, but if you do that then it is, strictly speaking, not virtual reality anymore. It is augmented reality, a different beast from VR which is all about making the environment immersive.
We need a paradigm shift in UI/UX if we want to get past the traditional “window” metaphor. Developers are already trying to come up with ways to adapt to VR devices. For instance, the web interface hovers in front of the user's eyes on Samsung Gear VR. Taps, head gestures and voice commands work the way traditional touch interfaces and keyboards do. While it is enough to sell the user on the idea of VR, it wouldn't be up to snuff if you want to sell the user on the benefits of simulated realities.
So, should you focus on having a site for VR? Of course, yes. Developers and designers will start to include VR features in websites in the near future. Educational tools, interactive maps and visualization tools will make your website stand apart from your competition, irrespective of the industry you are in. However, there is no denying the fact that the traditional web will continue to coexist. It is just not practical to do some things in VR. While you can read a blog with a VR headset with the help of SPRITZ integration, many users will still prefer reading it on their iPads. There are still people across the world who like reading books the old-fashioned way. But that definitely does not mean that your business should not start preparing for the near total ubiquity of virtual reality and augmented reality in the near future.
Investing a lot of money in this area right now might not be the wisest decision to make as we still do not know the direction this rapidly changing technology is set to take. But no one in their right mind would deny that it does not hurt to keep your eyes peeled for the exciting developments that are happening with VR web browsers. If you have hired a website development company, make sure that they are up to date with all the forthcoming technologies. Ask them about the feasibility of 3D modelling. It is a highly valuable skill that is only set to become even more so in the future. A few years down the line, you do not want to find yourself in a position where no one visits your website because it is in plain old 2D. You might have a better product than your competitor, but people will still tide over to the cooler web experience.