VR and AR Successes and Failures: Analyzing the Year 2023
While VR and AR are often declared dead by amateurs and commentators, 2023 was one of the best years ever for XR, says Ben.
“An expert is a man who can tell you exactly why his prediction was wrong.” This sentence by Kangaroo Chronicles author Marc-Uwe Kling is perilously true, which is why I'd rather not dig out my predictions from last year. Bullet dodged!
But I like to look back because you can see things with a little distance and wallow in self-pity, practice self-criticism or indulge in self-praise. Or you can take it out on others. I'm going to try a bit of both.
My personal lament is about my time. I've tried or played fewer VR/AR applications than ever before. My job, which unfortunately doesn't just consist of testing, hyping and ranting for XR products, had me firmly in its grip and reduced my (immersive) screen time to a minimum. It's just sad because there are still so many XR applications out there to try.
But I'm not giving up, even though 2024 promises less time.
Pity for …
Pico. When Bytedance, the makers of the Chinese video app Tiktok, took over Pico two years ago, everyone was hoping for some real competition to Meta Quest. In fact, Pico took a big step forward last year with the Pico 4. In my German VR headset comparison, I wrote the following outlook on Pico 4: “However, they [Bytedance] need to show perseverance: hardware, software, and apps need to be consistently improved. Then, Pico can certainly establish itself as a long-term competitor and real alternative to Meta”.
This is all history now, as Bytedance boss Zhang Yiming appears to have had incredibly short-sighted expectations for VR. The Information writes: “Shortly after the Pico acquisition, Zhang told the unit’s executives in a meeting that he wanted Pico to close the gap with Meta in the headset market in a few years. ByteDance moved some of its Douyin and TikTok employees to Pico to work on the development of VR videos, hoping such videos could make Pico’s headsets more attractive to consumers.
While that effort failed, Zhang hasn’t completely given up. A few months ago, Zhang asked Pico chief Henry Zhou in a meeting whether Pico could develop something similar to Apple’s forthcoming Vision Pro mixed-reality headset in two years. Zhou said yes, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter, even though some Pico employees think that’s unlikely.”
Dear Zhang, I doubt it very much, too. If you couldn't keep up with Meta's VR headsets, how are you going to beat the Vision Pro, which isn't even on the market yet? Pico boss Zhou has an incredible amount of self-confidence, I'll give him that. But how is that going to work with such limited resources? Full copy-cat as soon as you can disassemble the AVP? Spoiler: At least you're missing the chips.
My sympathies go out to all the Pico employees who also think this project is nonsense in this form and under these conditions.
I also feel sorry for
- The Firewall developers who had to close their studio,
- all those who believe that the Quest Pro has not been discontinued, and
- everyone who reads the incredibly stupid metaverse crap on LinkedIn without blocking the authors.
There are many, many things I could have done better this year. No one is more annoyed by my mistakes than I am, starting with the spelling mistakes that keep creeping in and making me wonder how blind I can be.
We've also been working with realistic AI images for too long. It's fantastic what AI image generators like Midjourney and DALL-E can do. But: Realistic-looking AI images have no place in journalism because they can quickly convey false impressions or even false information. For example, I used a realistic AI image in an article about a smart carpet for VR locomotion – that was a huge mistake, and I'm deeply sorry about it. We now have a clear rule for all our magazines that AI images must be entirely conceptual, comic-style, or otherwise clearly recognizable as artificial work.
However, I am particularly annoyed by my struggles to draw the right conclusions at demo sessions. Twice this year, I've been way off the mark.
First, I was very excited about the Vive XR Elite. Then the review showed that while HTC has plenty of good ideas, they just don't manage to build a well-rounded, meaningful product. I really should cut down on the hopium.
Criticism of …
Sony. Speaking of disappointment: Playstation VR 2 is my letdown of the year. Started out as a tiger, ended up as a bedside rug. What were you thinking, Sony?
I still stand by my review of PSVR 2 because it was absolutely my opinion at the time and the key points are still valid. Meanwhile, however, this platform simply has the smell of decay about it. Since the initial blockbusters like Horizon Call of the Mountain (I love that game!), Resident Evil 8 VR and the great Gran Turismo 7, very little has come along. Too little, too late.
Sony recently said that PSVR 2 is a “challenging category”. As one of our respected readers already pointed out, this statement can only be valid if a challenge is accepted. In PR, such phrases are usually a friendly form of dismissal – or simply an admission of a lack of strategy and planning. This has already been proven by the poor marketing and somewhat questionable timing of the PSVR 2 release.
With the Quest 3, and especially with the excellent lenses that make the usual (PS)VR-typical millimeter adjustment of the VR headset superfluous, it is also clear now, that the PSVR 2 is technically left behind just a few months after its release.
Also on my list of failures:
- Microsoft: Cancelled Windows Mixed Reality, shoved lame Office apps into the Quest Store, killed AltSpaceVR. It's time for a “Killed by Google” equivalent for Redmond's VR killers.
- Ray Ban | Meta Smartglasses: Who came up with that stupid name?
- Pimax: The standalone mode for the Pimax Crystal is as unnecessary as a goiter. Although my colleague Alan thinks otherwise.
- Meta & Sanzaru Games: I don't understand your (marketing) strategy for Asgard's Wrath. If you're giving away a VR game with Quest 3, then the game should have the optimizations for the new VR headset and be available at the release of the hardware. I also think the review process you've come up with was just plain stupid.
- Quest 3 editions and accessories: The choice between 128 GB and 512 GB is nuts. The price difference is even more insane. And your accessory pricing is way out of line. You're not Apple and you don't need to be artificially expensive, dammit.
- There are still very few tabletop RPGs that can be played comfortably on the couch.
- Lynx R1: A short demo didn't convince me. Lynx also does not serve its backers - some of the first backers have been waiting a long time for their device. One of my candidates for collapse in 2024.
- The VR industry isn't for the weak and squeamish
I would like to take this opportunity to thank our team (Tomislav, Josef and Alan in the editorial department and Leon and Sebastian in the technical department) for the fact that MIXED, despite the constant, unfair battle against Google's algorithm, has made the successful leap to the English-speaking market.
It now has significantly more visitors than the German site. However, we still have much more loyal and engaged readers in German.
Praise for …
I want to stop with the positives of the year, so here's a bucket of praise for my biggest highlights.
- Apple Vision Pro: The presentation of the AVP was absolutely successful and inspiring. This is the way to present a VR/AR headset! (Yes, dear Apple, it is VR!)
- Ghost Signal: A Stellaris Game – Thank you for many hours of wonderful, relaxed VR playtime in an extraordinary environment!
- Steam Link: Thank you Valve for bringing this excellent and simple wireless solution to the Quest Store.
- Ubisoft: Assassin's Creed Nexus shows that you still got it.
- Racket Club is an incredible example of the massive potential of XR portals.
- Vampire: The Masquerade - Justice is one of my VR gaming highlights because it made me feel like a powerful vampire.
- Lex Fridman and Mark Zuckerberg's Metaverse podcast is one of my absolute highlights of the XR year!
- Ray Ban | Meta Smartglasses: Great Smartglasses with some rad AI features rolling out right now.
- Walkabout Mini Golf: Thanks for every new course that Josef and I look forward to for our weekly rounds.
- Quest 3: I can't imagine my life without it, even though I don't have much time. The future of Mixed Reality looks great.
- Prescription lenses from VR Optician: they make VR so much more comfortable!
- 37 non-gaming reasons why VR is amazing
- Meta – for pushing VR further and further; otherwise it would have been dead long ago.