The virtual reality (VR) market has always been on the cusp of being the next mainstream platform. However, it has remained niche for many years thanks to technological limitations and scant content. Now a global pandemic appears to have changed the technology’s fortunes—at least in the short-term–as homebound people have been searching for ways to entertain themselves and connect with others.

VR products have been hot sellers during the Covid-19 pandemic

Facebook, which has a vision of making augmented reality and VR the next communications platform, said it attracted nearly $300 million in non-advertising revenue during the first quarter of 2020, with the number being largely driven by sales of Oculus VR products. The Oculus Quest is Facebook’s full-featured, reasonably priced consumer VR headset, while the Oculus Rift S is a dedicated PC headset. Both products are facing shortages as stay-at-home orders and social distancing have disrupted production and the supply chain. During Facebook’s conference call discussing quarterly earnings, CEO Mark Zuckerberg noted that it’s possible the pandemic could kick off an acceleration for AR and VR adoption.

Whether this adoption trend will hold up as most of the world becomes free to move about again remains to be seen. But major events such as concerts, sporting competitions and conferences will likely move ahead this year without live fans in attendance. Perhaps non-coincidentally, Apple recently confirmed that it purchased NextVR, which specializes in streaming live events like concerts and sports contests in VR.

5G could further boost AR/VR take up

With new high-speed, low-latency 5G networks coming to market, mobile operators are hoping AR/VR becomes a key application that sets their networks apart from today’s generation of wireless technology. To that end, chip vendor Qualcomm announced a partnership with several vendors and 15 global operators to bring VR viewers tethered to 5G smartphones to the market within a year. In addition, former HTC CEO Peter Chou unveiled his new VR company called XRSpace. The company is coming to market wth an all-in-one 5G-connected mixed reality headset called XRSpace Mova as well as a social reality platform called XRSpace Manova.

If anything, the Covid-19 pandemic should demonstrate what AR/VR can do. Society has already accomplished much digitally. The trick for those pushing VR is to consistently market the technology, shifting the mentality from a nice-to-have story to one that shows the technology is highly useful for collaboration and entertainment.

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