Technology is constantly changing, and companies must evolve with the times or get left behind. For years, concepts such as virtual reality (VR) seemed like the stuff of science fiction rather than a part of our daily lives.
However, recent advances have changed the playing field, making VR both more affordable and accessible. Oculus Rift, a VR headset, has allowed more people to experience VR applications through smartphones, tablets, and desk tops. Google Fiber introduced faster and more reliable broadband capability, which also improves access to VR technology for the general public.
However, before we can explore how virtual reality will impact the future of web design, we must first define VR.
Augmented Reality Impact on Web Design
What are Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality?
British science writer Chris Woodford describes VR as, "A believable, interactive 3D computer-created world that you can explore so you feel you really are there, both mentally and physically."
In contrast, Augmented Reality (AR) is grounded in your actual environment. Computer scientist and AR expert Ronald Azuma defines AR as an application that, "combines the real world with the virtual world, is interactive and in real-time, and is registered in 3 dimensions."
With the current technology, VR relies on use of wearable tech such as headsets. While AR often utilizes these items, it does not rely on them.
How is Augmented Reality Currently Used?
Although we are in the early phases of AR adoption, many companies are already dipping their toes in the water.
• Facebook bought Oculus Rift for 2 billion dollars and plans to integrate it's use into their current app to provide a more immersive experience.
• MSC Cruise Line has recently launch the first "smart cruise ship", the Meraviglia. Passengers utilize AR in the many shops to virtually try on clothes and accessories.
• Apple acquired Metaio, an augmented reality software company based in Germany. This leads many to believe the company has VR and AR plans in the works.
• Wayray offers holographic navigation tools that display GPS information directly onto your car's windshield. No need for headgear.
• AccuVein allows medical professionals to see veins for easier blood draws and IV access.
Implications for Web Design
Cultural anthropologists believe we will continue to use items that are already a part of our daily lives, but those items will now be become "smart". Just like smartphones and smart cars, we will interact with "smart parking meters", "smart refrigerators", and more. Therefore, the emphasis is not on designing new devices, but on designing the applications and websites for interacting with our current devices.
Companies are already exploring their web-based options. VR browser, Janus VR, allows you to walk through a lobby, pass through doors to visit specific websites where text appears on walls and videos are shown in theaters. You can even interact with other people visiting the site. Mozilla is developing Firefox experimental with support for VR apps. And Google is said to be experimenting with VR browsing.
A new application called Layar uses the camera on your iPhone or Android device to display information about what is around you or printed material in front of you. It also allows you to interact with that information.
Although it isn't exactly clear where this movement will lead, it is safe to bet that web design will include some form of VR and AR. It's too early to invest great sums of money, but companies should closely follow updates in the tech and be ready to adapt their web content. Specific areas for attention include responsive website design, 3D modeling, and VR/AR tech. Don't get caught snoozing.
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