Virtual reality and the weekly roundup in tech and retail

News and commentaries

If someone gave you a perfect simulation of today’s world to play in and told you that it’s all fake with no actual consequences—with the only rules being that you can’t break the law or harm anyone, and you still have to make sure to support your and your family’s basic needs—what would you do? (Tim Urban, Wait but Why)

The context of the quote above is more about how we can push ourselves to pursue a more fulfilling life that may be out of our comfort zone. But, I also think of the above in relation to virtual reality and the idea of an “experience machine.” If a life with no actual consequences is available to us, would we plug in? And if we do plug in, are we going to map out a life of only pleasure or will we include experiences like volunteering in desolate areas?

Later this month is the long-awaited release of the Oculus Rift. Other companies are set to follow: HTC Vive, PlayStation VR and who knows – Apple, Google and the ever secretive Magic Leap. Of course, we already have Samsung’s Gear VR and Google’s Cardboard. But with Oculus Rift, we very well might be at the tipping point for tech companies to enter the VR hardware market. With competition comes innovation and better VR content.

There is no question in my mind that VR or augmented reality devices will improve to a point where they become as common as smartphones and the content becomes as compelling as social media, movies, games (pick your poison as it is), and even real life. Are we in danger of eschewing real life for a type of Second Life or Grand Theft Auto in VR? Will we favor Neal Stephenson’s imagined Metaverse in his novel Snowcrash over our real lives?

…I had a nagging sense that many users were neglecting their offline lives and relationships to be there. The company’s own data revealed the majority of its most active users spend an average of 6-plus hours daily within Second Life. Another study suggested people derived more happiness within that world than from the real one. (Wired)

We already are opiated in some way with our TV shows, Instagram moments, alcohol, Tinder, pain killers – the list could go on. And in each of this instance, we make the choice on the degree of the escapism involved. Of course, the fact that virtual reality can potentially recreate the life that we live right now with more of anything that we desire is definitely a concern. The same people who have no qualms spending a majority of their waking lives immersed in escapist activities will also be the ones to prefer VR to real life. Just like how we evolved with the internet, I think we will find a myriad of uses for VR beyond escaping the life that we have. Just like Tim Berners-Lee’s bemusement at one of the uses of the world wide web he invented, I’m sure Rift’s inventor Palmer Luckey will also be surprised at how people end up using VR.

Screen Shot 2016-03-04 at 2.10.36 PM

So instead of going the fire and brimstone route, how about we all get excited about the possibilities of VR?

Here are this week’s most relevant news in tech and retail:

In tech:

  1. FBI vs. Apple: Twitter, Airbnb, eBay, Kickstarter, LinkedIn and Square File Brief Supporting AppleWhat’s Next for Apple as Its Battle With the FBI Plays Out in Washington?
  2. Alphabet: Verily Is Building A Google For Medical Information; Google’s computers paint like Van Gogh, and the art sells for thousands
  3. Uber’s International Business Is Deep in the Red
  4. Space: NASA astronaut Scott Kelly returns to Earth: What a year in space does to a person’s body; Hubble breaks cosmic record, captures most distant galaxy
  5. Yahoo exploring sale of $1 billion-$3 billion in ‘non-core assets’: CFO

In retail:

  1. Luxxotica pares profit guidance, pours cold water on tie-up talk
  2. Adidas plans to open 3,000 new stores in China
  3. Target ramps up spending on logistics to win your shopping dollars
  4. Kate Spade aces holiday quarter with same-store sales beat
  5. Gap core sales fell 2% in February