Highway city lights during the sunset

A New Reality: Living in a Virtual World

9 Mar 2016 by Susie Steckner

Technology is constantly evolving — not unlike a living organism. It isn’t static. It isn’t constant. That makes it disruptive. Businesses, even niche businesses, often forget to, or choose not to, evolve with technology and are turned upside down — because their products, their policies, their customer interface becomes, simply put, outdated. We live in a consumer-driven world, and we are often drawn to technology everything — from convenience to novelty. This is Insight’s Disruptive Technology series. We will be addressing how technology enters an industry and does exactly that — disrupts.

The vacation of your dreams. The ideal shopping day. The smartest money move. Your life, played out in Virtual Reality (VR).

Advancing VR tech is shifting the way we live and is impacting experiences as basic as ordering a meal or as complex as plotting our retirement strategy.

And this shift isn’t slowing down.  

The virtual reality and augmented reality industries are only expected to grow. In fact, Digi-Capital forecasts that, combined, those industries could explode into a $150 billion market by 2020.

Already, we’re seeing huge leaps in the technology with players like Oculus VR, Sony, Google, Samsung and Microsoft taking the lead.

“Some of the brightest minds and best investors are working hard to build AR and VR’s future from Silicon Valley to Shanghai,” Digi-Capital reports. “It’s going to be a wild ride.”

Here’s a look at some of the industries facing the greatest disruption.

Healthcare 

The industry is already being upended by innovation and can expect more of the same in the coming years. Virtual reality could make its mark everywhere, from training to treatment to time spent in that hospital bed.

AR and VR advancements equal big promise for education and training, whether providing in-the-moment lessons for young doctors or opportunities for experienced professionals to hone skills. Patients, meanwhile, have long relied on VR simulations to help treat conditions ranging from post-traumatic stress disorder to severe pain due to burn injuries. VR advancements are expected to broaden treatment optionsfor those conditions and a host of others.

VR will impact the industry in ways big and small. Consider the young patient confined to the hospital for long periods of time. What better way to “check out” thanthrough an immersive VR experience?

Hospitality

Is it enough to simply enjoy a delicious meal out? Or escape to a resort for some R&R? Maybe not. 

Consumers can have the world as VR takes off, whether taking a virtual concierge-led walking tour of a neighborhood or experiencing an exotic vacation before the first bag is even packed.

Marriott Hotel’s latest offering includes a taste of tech things to come. Through the chain’s “VRoom Service,” guests can use loaner VR kits to experience adventures like traveling to the Andes Mountains. The “VR Postcards” virtual platform offers guests immersive travel stories from around the world.

With VR, any experience in the hospitality world could be enhanced — even that perfect dinner date. The meal instantly comes alive with strolling musicians or street scenes or the sounds of a virtual café or piazza. 

Financial

Engaging millennials is, in part, what’s driving VR innovation in the financial industry. Think virtual customer service. On-demand financial advisors. Startup guidance from experts worldwide.

It’s money management made interesting with Fidelity Investments’ “Stock City,” in which skyscrapers double as a person’s investment portfolio. The virtual reality in Stock City changes with the market, taking users along for the ride.

VR may be the best answer to tackling a host of complex financial issues, such as retirement planning. Immersing a millennial in the life of a struggling senior citizen who did not save for retirement can quickly bring home the importance of planning for the future.

Retail

The retail industry has seen a rapid shift in consumer shopping habits with mobile, and VR will bring even more. Look no further than Samsung’s latest store that aims to sell experiences rather than devices or other products. Executives consider Samsung 837 an immersive cultural center complete with theatre, art gallery, café and demo kitchen.

Any area of the retail industry could be fair game for VR disruption. Customers at home-improvement stores can immerse themselves in the do-it-yourself project of their dreams. Savvy shoppers can take a front row seat at virtual fashion shows offered by popular designers.

Boutique retailer The Line is inviting customers from around the globe into its Manhattan store, The Apartment, with VR technology.

Education

It’s heady stuff: A visit to the bottom of the sea and the surface of the moon all in one school day. But that’s what Google’s Expeditions Pioneer Program offers classrooms. With more than 100 virtual journeys available, teachers and students can take their picks of new experiences.

As VR advances, the education arena is seeing more and more new experiences like these open up. In the face of one-dimensional text books and demand for digital, a host of immersive opportunities round out student learning.

“This global distribution of VR content and access will undoubtedly influence a pedagogical shift as these new technologies allow a literature teacher in Chicago to ‘take’ her students to Verona to look at the setting for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, or a teacher in the Bronx to ‘bring’ her Ancient Civilizations class to the ancient Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza,” says TechCrunch.

But the possibilities go well beyond virtual field trips or digital learning games to science experiments, cultural exchanges, college tours, therapeutic experiences for students with special needs and more.

Enterprise

VR is expanding its reach across countless industries, and the tech is forecast to be a game changer for those enterprises, whether interior design or manufacturing.

"Probably in the mid-part of the next decade we'll see the major part of this impact on the market," analyst Rob Enderle tells Computerworld. “You need the technology to mature enough and that will probably take about five years, and then you need another five years to adjust to it. So enterprises might really be putting this to work for them in the middle to late 2020s."