It took a long time for the technology to mature, but it’s clear from the investment in VR over the past few years (and the wild success of Pokemon Go) that virtual environments are going to be hugely influential in the coming years. Are we close to full-on holodeck-style VR with sensory feedback? No, of course not — but one step at a time.
This is significant for mobile UX designers, because much of what we can expect from VR (and AR) will be far removed from the traditional desktop setup. They’ll need to create rich interfaces for headsets and phones, all while up against some strong competition.
So how can they get ahead of the curve and start designing for the future? Well, getting to grips with these upcoming AR/VR innovations will be an excellent start:
At the moment, there are two common configurations for headsets: empty visors that require smartphones to function (cheap, but mediocre), and full headsets with purpose-built displays that connect to powerful desktop PCs or gaming consoles. This is already changing to some extent (as we’ll see next), but we’re soon going to see a bigger change through phone output.
This will essentially be a hybrid between those two options. Instead of connecting to PCs, headsets will connect to phones, with the phones either handling all of the processing or simply splitting it with the headsets (the phones could supply the power as well, but it makes more sense to have separate portable power banks).
It’s difficult to fully embrace the freedom of VR when you can only walk so far before you accidentally pull out the cable and lose your image. Cord-free VR has been a challenge, though, and remains tricky: the VIVE Pro has a wireless adapter, but newer headsets like the Valve Index have higher resolution displays with higher refresh rates. Bump things up to the 5k level and above, and things get tricky: certain high-end displays require multiple connectors to work.
There are already standalone headsets like the Oculus Quest that can provide some excellent experiences, though they’re somewhat limited. With the implementation of 5g wireless tech (and the standards that succeed it), though, we’ll see new possibilities emerge. One day, a high-end VR headset could stream a high-quality gaming experience directly from a mobile connection, making it extremely portable.
Instead of opening up a standard map view and checking directions that way, it would be much more intuitive (and useful) to have the directions superimposed upon a live video feed of the road up ahead. This is something that car manufacturers are starting to offer through smart windscreens, but we can expect it to become a standard option on regular smartphones.
Similar features have been achieved before in controlled environments such as retail stores, so this is the next step. Google has had this feature in beta testing for quite some time, and has already rolled it out to certain users with Pixel devices. Once it gets pushed to the main release, it should lead to some interesting applications across devices, particularly since Apple will inevitably follow soon after.
Microsoft’s HoloLens 2 is going to be obscenely expensive, but innovative products always start out that way before falling in price as production processes improve and R&D costs get recouped. This should continue the slow but steady rise of wearable AR that began for most with the release of Google Glass.
AR glasses drawing data live from the IoT could be incredibly compelling. Throw in the AR navigation we just looked at, and you have the prospect of hybrid AR glasses and smartphones (AR phoneglasses?) ultimately being primary communications devices.
It would be a dream for ecommerce buyers and sellers alike: imagine the in-home AR previewing functions already available but on a much larger scale right in front of your eyes. Shopify is already working on ways to make it easier to produce AR content (building the future of experiential retail, so to speak), so when the hardware matures to a sufficient extent, we’re likely to see a massive change in how online stores market themselves.
FOV, or field of view, has been a big problem for early generation VR headsets. The initials standard was 90 degrees, which really kills the illusion of being in a virtual environment. It’s much more like looking through a porthole at a world you can’t actually reach. However, newer headsets are improving upon this: the Valve Index achieves an FOV of around 130 degrees, while some Pimax headsets are hitting 170 degrees horizontally.
For general UI design, this is going to be a significant change, because it isn’t just a matter of adding more screen real estate — it also requires designers to understand the role and limitations of peripheral vision. We can only see about 180 degrees horizontally, so putting an important piece of information (like a push notification) in the corner of a new display can cause issues. Everything will need to be prioritized accordingly to ensure that nothing gets missed.
Each of these innovations is going to achieve some fascinating things in the coming years, and is likely to make an impact of some kind in 2020. To know what exactly will happen, we can only wait and see.
Blog post written by Rodney Laws
Rodney Laws is an ecommerce platform specialist and online business consultant. He’s worked in the ecommerce industry for nearly two decades, helping brands big and small to achieve their business goals. You can get his advice for free by visiting EcommercePlatforms.io and reading his detailed reviews. For more tips and advice, reach out to Rodney on Twitter @EcomPlatformsio.
Mobile UX London Conference: 21 November 2019
On 21 November, we will be holding our annual conference, exploring the evolution of and future of UX Design.
This year’s conference themes include:
- Mixed, Virtual and Augmented Reality
- Designing for Voice
- Artificial Intelligence and 5G
- UX Design principles
Throughout the day there will be over 15 talks, 4 masterclasses and 6 workshops to choose from.