EPMEPM: Technology & Social

Virtual Reality: Are We Nearing the Tipping Point?

Pokémon Go gave us a sneak peek into augmented reality, but the technology still has a long way to go before it will be adopted on a large scale, says Alister Maple-Brown.

Thanks to Pokémon Go, 2016 was the year the world paid attention to augmented reality. Men, women and children rushed to download it to their smartphones and started energetically chasing Pokémons down streets, through parks, into shopping centres and across a myriad of other locations at all times of the day and night.

Using geo-location data, Pokémon Go created an augmented reality for users. By delivering virtual elements as an overlay to the real world, players were able to interact with the game in a more meaningful way – and it was easily accessible from a device we all carry around with us every day.

But beyond catching Pokémons, what’s its use? How does it apply to real estate?

Augmented reality is definitely starting to come of age as consumers look for more efficient and visually exciting ways to access information about properties. Whether on a smartphone or a tablet, augmented reality allows real estate professionals to showcase properties from a 3D perspective. With the touch of a button, people can visualise changes to a property by modifying the colour of a wall or adding a piece of furniture.

And then there’s virtual reality. Whereas augmented reality uses our current mobile devices to change how the real world and digital images interact, virtual reality is usually delivered to the user through a head-mounted device.

We’ve all seen them, those clunky headsets, and for the most part they’ve been viewed as a bit nerdy and geeky. But consider what they do. They enable users to connect to a virtual reality – a digital recreation of a real-life setting – and allow them to control and navigate their actions in an environment meant to simulate the real world.

There’s been buzz in the real estate industry about virtual reality for what seems like years. It’s the next ‘big thing’. It’s going to revolutionise the inspection process. It’s a ‘must have’ for every integrated marketing campaign.

But despite all the hype, virtual reality is yet to be adopted on a large scale. While we’ve already started to see a definite uptake of augmented reality technology in our industry, when it comes to virtual reality technology, not so much – yet.

Predicting when consumers will adopt a new technology en masse is incredibly difficult. It’s not enough to build something new or cool. To reach a tipping point, the new technology must be definitively better than existing choices – and it must be user-friendly and readily accessible.

One of the main challenges of taking virtual reality mainstream lies in the difficulty of describing what exactly the experience is like. Put simply, virtual reality must be experienced; and while the price of virtual reality devices has come down in recent times, it’s still not penetrated the consumer market in a meaningful way.

But remember, while we all carry one today, smartphones took almost a decade to fully enter the marketplace and become completely integrated with our everyday lives. And with companies like Apple, Google and Facebook investing heavily in virtual reality and driving development, there’s little doubt the technology will become mainstream. It’s just a matter of time.

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Alister Maple-Brown

Alister Maple-Brown is the CEO of leading property management software provider Rockend. For more information visit rockend.com.au.