Virtual reality is generally seen as a gaming innovation, but Britain's small businesses could be set to save time and money by taking their business into the virtual space.
In March last year the Oculus Rift – a groundbreaking piece of virtual reality (VR) gaming technology, that saw its first prototype in 2011, was finally made available to the public. While 2016 was a banner year for gaming, it may also prove to be a game-changing one for UK small businesses, thanks to the immersive new technology’s money and time-saving applications.
No longer prohibitive
While the Oculus Rift’s starting price of £399 is certainly prohibitive, rival headsets – such as the Samsung Gear VR – cost as little as £90, meaning the prospect of small businesses being able to utilise VR is no longer farfetched.
“More powerful and cheaper mobile devices and headsets are hitting the market and content creation tools are improving rapidly, so that you can use them without deep coding expertise,” Zappar executive Caspar Thykier said in December, when asked about VR’s place in the SME industry. He added that it’s not just a drop in price that’s making VR and augmented reality (AR) seem like an approachable tool for small businesses.
The business applications of VR are creative and staggeringly wide-ranging. Workforces can now be given practical training in manufacturing before they even set foot onto the shop floor. Product prototypes can be tested safely and with minimum overheads and, most excitingly, the promotional possibilities of virtual and augmented reality are endless. For example, San Diego-based Jerome’s Furniture uses AR for clients to try out furniture in their own home without even leaving the house.
Touring virtual space
While virtual practical training and product testing are exciting prospects for a thrifty SME, VR’s true strength lies in its ability to allow one to inhabit and explore spaces in an immersive way.
“Hotels will be able to show off their suites, event spaces and facilities in true perspective – something that’s much more powerful than simply clicking through photos online,” James Morris-Manuel, sales director of property tech company Matterport, told the Telegraph. And there are already small businesses doing just that.
Clothing brand Gymshark has embraced VR as a tool for allowing customers to browse their pop-up stores, ensuring a wider customer base by bringing in custom from people who have not even set foot in its shop.
Empowering sole traders
Of course, not all SMEs have offices, shop fronts or galleries to show off, but VR has had a demonstrable positive effect on mobile sole traders as well. “I make craft items, usually sold at craft fairs,” one user of UK Business Forums said. “My skills in drafting and techniques for the crafts I do were gained at a faster rate when using the headset to learn.”
For a sole trader, output speed is paramount and VR allowed the user to truncate the process by roughly half. “I’m excited about the possibility of future design work being done on VR faster and in more detail than several dozen sketches for one product,” they said.
Projections for a virtual future
Regardless of the advantages VR may lend to small businesses, the simple fact is that VR is set to become a ubiquitous computing platform for businesses both big and small. Goldman Sachs research business unit leader, Heather Bellini, estimated that virtual and augmented reality would become an $80bn market by 2025, superseding the desktop PC market. “While today virtual reality is thought of as a place for hardcore gamers to spend their spare time, it’s increasingly attracting sectors that people touch every day. For example, in real estate, in medical institutions to train doctors and even field trips for schools,” she said.
“We think [virtual and augmented reality have] the potential to transform how we interact with almost every industry today, and we think it will be equally transformative both from a consumer and an enterprise perspective.”
Over the next decade VR could become an essential purchase for any SME, and thanks to the drastic drop in price and the versatility of its applications, it’s likely to be a profitable one.
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