Virtual reality has taken the tech community by storm. Some experts predict that it will be the biggest innovation since the internet, whilst others take a more pessimistic view and compare the hype to that preceding the launch of Google Glass, a project which has now been consigned to the Google scrapheap.
For the uninitiated, here's a quick overview of what virtual reality actually is. The definition of virtual reality comes from the definitions of virtual (meaning close to) and reality (what we experience in everyday life). Put these together and you get 'close to everyday life', or 'close to reality'. Virtual reality achieves this by mimicking the way our visual senses interpret the world around us and instead give us an emulated reality. VR headsets, which can range from your smartphone in a cardboard cutout to something like Samsung's Oculus rift, strap to your head and cover your eyes with an internal screen which uses lenses to create a full visual effect. This presents the user with a virtual world, which tracks their head movements in a 360-degree environment.
But however you view the launch of virtual reality, it still remains that there are many possibilities for further innovation and enhancing user experience. There is also the question which remains largely unanswered; how does the web fit in with virtual reality? To answer this question, I am going to look how we currently interface with the world wide web, and how virtual reality could possibly change this.
Without a doubt, the most common reason to access the web is for general web browsing. From research to watching videos, our 2D experience of the web is in need of an update, but could virtual reality make the change? Imagine for example looking at a website for a restaurant; the site will probably have pages for their menu, explaining the business, and contact details. Now imagine virtually walking into that same restaurant. Instead of reading the menu from a web page, you physically pick up the menu and read it. To book a table, you just go up to the front desk and speak to the virtual assistant. Maybe you want to know other customers' experiences, so you walk around the restaurant speaking to virtual customers with recorded testimonials. With further innovation very likely in the future, you may also be able to sample and smell the food.
Perhaps the most obvious candidate for virtual reality is gaming. Although VR headsets for gaming already exist, this area of the gaming market remains relatively small. Virtual reality in gaming allows for a more immersive environment, and new innovations are already looking to improve the experience. Such products include gaming gloves with tiny sensors, which can track the movements in your hands. This could be useful in a driving game for instance, where movements in your hands can control the steering wheel. You could even have sensors in shoes to control the pedals or sensors in an entire body suit for absolute control over your virtual environment.
Chat rooms, instant messaging and video calls could become a thing of the past. Instead of logging into to your favourite social networking site, you slip your VR headset on and are transported to social events and alike. An example could be sitting around a campfire with your friends, with each person being able to communicate with everyone else. You could even have saved environments such as a house, where any changes that have been made are preserved.
Virtual reality is an exciting new advance in technology, buts its slow take to the market and at times fierce opposition from opponents could mean that the humble web user may have to wait a good few years until the web becomes that little bit more real.