Virtual Reality: Let’s not replace reality… yet

This is part three of a month-long series on VR. Check out parts one and two.

There’s nothing new about Virtual Reality. It’s not that it’s an obscure technology that has been under dark basements all this time. I remember playing Heretic and Doom on VR systems in the 90’s; but now, thanks to many factors, VR tech is (almost) reaching the level of being accessible to the common man.

Currently, there’s a fistful of companies that are trying to push their own tech on the VR dream. Some are even located between the blurred lines of the industry, like Microsoft HoloLens that is more Augmented Reality than Virtual Reality, but follows the momentum of the Not-Real-Reality zeitgeist. Most of these efforts will die, and that’s ok. Everyone’s pitching their own ideas, and at the end, the most convenient and popular will survive, or maybe not (looking at you, VHS and Blu-Ray).

Nintendo's Virtual Boy was released in 1995, and was discontinued six months later.

Nintendo’s Virtual Boy was released in 1995, and was discontinued six months later.

How do we interact with VR?

Whoever wins the arms race, what we really expect to reap are behavior standards. That is what concerns us as experience architects. Right now, all VR efforts have pretty much only one behavior in common: You can turn your head and perceive the virtual-augmented environment around. All the other basic elements of the experience and how you interact (if you can) with this environment vary. We are not talking about some basic button to push here, we are talking about stuff that aims to compete with reality itself.

LeapMotion attaches to Oculus Rift and tracks your hand movements.

LeapMotion attaches to Oculus Rift and tracks your hand movements.

VR needs an equivalent of Xerox mouse or Apple’s touch gestures on the first iPhone. An easy way to interact with the world that VR is promising, that is easy to use and quick to learn. One will think that because VR aims to involve the entire self, body gestures are an easy way to go on this, after all, finger gestures quickly became a standard, so this should be like the next “step”. But time has proven that it’s not really cool to waste your energy moving your arms around to do a simple action that can also can be done with a simple finger movement, like when we tap or click on a mouse.

Right now there are a lot of options that aim for the title of standard, or at least the better option. From complete stations that let the user feel like he’s walking in a single place to motion sensors and simple hand controls. All of those have been borrowed from the world of videogames; a world that has been dreaming with VR for decades.

Since the Nintendo Wii made popular the revolutionary “Wiimote”, it seemed that it was possible to create a decent body interaction with potential VR systems. But that’s for games, and you can only play boxing like that for some time before you get tired. Some experiences require less physical immersion and more of a sensorial experience.

Start Simple

If VR wants to aim to any kind of public and be a platform for a wide arrange of products, it needs to start simple before it gets complex. I bet somebody will want the complete “Lawnmower Man” battle station at home, but maybe companies need to aim low to hit high for now, stop pretending to replace reality itself.


Still, VR is still a technology with a potential to be as immersive as anything anyone has ever experienced, so simple interactions still need to be on the level of the potential that the device is promising. We don’t want to break immersion using the same Xbox controller we use for games on a flat screen. We want interactions that can go from a jump to the movement of a finger, and compact and precise enough so you don’t have to take the kids out of their room to build a VR place where you can do all that.

Maybe Facebook with the Oculus have another vision of what the market could want more than Valve+HTC, but for now, what we need is to start seeing the results of all those ideas on the public and see how they (and we) react.

In these infant times of an old technology, we can’t demand to have epiphanies of how things are going to be forever. We expect evolution, and as designers, is our duty to give those ideas challengers and opportunities, embrace chaos and don’t be afraid to fail. It’s time to aim for the moon, we will reach for the stars next… from the comfort of our sofas… using our VR headsets.

Let us know what you think about User Experience in VR by tweeting @zemoga!



NRF15: Tuesday Recap

Tuesday, Tuesday.

Day 3 of NRF is up and running, and today we really tried to find some cool things on the floor. Although we do find supply chain software sexy, you might not. So here are some of the highlights from the show. Oddly enough, the most interesting tech came from some of the bigger players.



These guys are always finding themselves in the guts of some really cool things. They’re the backbone to much of the technology we use today. Although I still believe my G4 Powerbook, which ran on IBM, was the best apple laptop of all time (back then everything really did “just work”), I love my latest 15” MacBook Pro.

The Dove experience was interesting. I will be honest: the display did a pretty poor job of taking the customer on the journey. You could tell that the purpose was to help people better understand the product. Again, biggest issue was figuring out how to interact with it. Did I swipe something, scan it, tap it? What do I do?! Once I figured it out, it didn’t do much besides show the product I scanned or swiped. It also had a lift sense on one side, so that when you picked up a product, it put it up on the screen. The issue was the products didn’t match what came up on the screen, but “A” for effort.


There was also a NE-YO experience that was kind of “meh.” Again, I didn’t really know what the stuff was doing. There was already music playing with a “virtual NE-YO” dancing. I’d push buttons on a laptop that would then add new sounds/mixes to the song. I’ve been playing music my whole life, and the funny thing was that most of the samples you could drop in didn’t really even seem to fit with the song. As I fumbled with trying to play with it, even virtual NE-YO got mad at me. He said, “come on bro, you can do better than that!”. I took that in stride considering NE-YO probably has no idea how to even write a song. I gave up. I think the purpose of the tech could very easily be applied to an “endless aisle” type feature where a shopper could simply scroll through many options of the same product.


Imagine a shopper at Footlocker looking at shoes and the NIKE’s have about 30 colors but Footlocker really only wanted to stock about 5. Presto! You could use these screens to look at all the beautiful options (or just pull out your smartphone and go to I digress.

What was cool about their booth was a plug-in box for a POS that grabbed real-time purchase decisions. So, if you’re McDonalds you could plug this thing into your terminal and it would just start capturing real time data that you could put on a dashboard. What’s great is that this box is POS System agnostic. It can hook up to anything, which is super helpful to the retailer. The simplest things always have the most impact when it comes to technology.



These guys are the backbone for so many industries, but their Hybris system is pretty cool. They had a great dressing room technology incorporating RFID. RFID at one point in my life was the bain of my existence. It use to be very expensive and clunky. I used to lead innovation for a very high end luxury retailer. We had incorporated RFID almost 7 years ago into the dressing room only to watch it fail miserably. Time seems to cure all things, as now the cost of the technology has dropped significantly and it easily sticks right on a price tag.

This speaks to the notion that being first and buying the kitchen sink doesn’t always work. The technology was interesting back then, but it needed time to evolve and allow the things to support it to catch up. Bluetooth is very much the same. It’s not until BLE came along and the software caught up that it’s become a viable option via beacons. Being good at retail strategy is seeing the curve ahead. It’s understanding that this is great technology, but not right now.


Wine Me

They also had a sensor panel where a user could go up to an iPad kiosk input a few of their wine preferences and then the appropriate bottle on the wall would light up. Once someone grabbed the bottle it would measure it being picked up and put back if the customer decided to pass. The retailer would get real time data on this, which is always helpful. Obviously the technology could be applied to a variety of products (Dove and Intel could use Hybris help).



To be honest there was nothing super interesting there. We just went because they were showing off some XboxOne games, and who doesn’t love video games?


Thanks for following along. We’ll have an overall recap tomorrow about leveraging these strategies and how it relates to your roadmaps and startups.

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