Whether it’s all a gimmick or not, photos in virtual reality are amazing. They’re easy to create, and throw your audience into a straightforward, immersive experience. If you haven’t tried making one yet, you should.
After tinkering with VR for a year or two, I’ve really come to love the idea of spherical photos and wonder how they could really change how we see VR content. This is a totally accessible, easy-to-view piece of tech – even if it is a little pedestrian. I’ve had more fun showing people my photos than I have any other kind of media on the Google Daydream.
The future of VR may not lie in expensive gaming systems, or watching feature length movies. The future may lie in our ability to share our home videos and photos with friends. As TechCrunch pointed out this month, big players in VR will need to solve the huge battery hog that most content needs. However, photos don’t need that kind of power. Mobile devices can run them without a hitch, making it perfect for passing around a room. In fact showing off photos to friends and family garnered a much more exciting response than showing them a Mars landing or Lego. Cheap, easy, and fun.
Plenty of manufacturers are allowing us to take our own spherical photos and preview them. As far as all in one packages go, Google and Samsung are killing it. You can take a spherical photo on a Google Pixel phone, and then preview that photo using their Daydream headset. It’s seamless, and when you see your vacation snaps like this, it’s actually worth the effort. They’ve done an amazing job of making it immersive.
Part of that immersive quality comes from the lack of movement. The audience has all the time in the world to soak in the view. Gone is the feeling of missing what’s behind you when the video has moved on. Neat tricks like adding in audio recordings of the surroundings or bringing in graphics are nice idea, but at the heart of it they’re not what we came for.
After the death of 3D televisions, you’d have a reason to believe that virtual reality is another buzzword. In fact, who’s entirely confident that VR is here to stay? While VR hasn’t got a firm, foothold in modern consumer’s hearts just yet, the tech is shaping up to reach far wider than television’s last foray. It has become a four billion dollar industry and is expected to grow much further. What’s concerning is that the audience need to own headsets before any content is made for them. Like we saw with 3D, there may not be enough adopters for creators to reach a wide audience. Hopefully more and more consumers get on board so we can all start sharing our own content.
Notice how I’m not showing off any of my own spherical photos? That’s because it’s difficult and half baked. The mediums in which you’ll find your audience don’t really exist yet. In a dream world we’d see some content on Instagram that would then prompt us to pick up our VR headset. I’d be able to send somebody a spherical image on WhatsApp, confident that their phone would allow them to view it properly. Even Facebook, which natively displays these photos, doesn’t have a smooth transition from phone to headset unless it’s a Samsung device.
Without proper compatibility, it’s difficult to reach an audience when they need to figure out how to view your photos. Until then we’re stuck with friends and family, and passing around a VR headset like a family photo album. If you’d like to experience spherical photos, I’d suggest picking up the Cardboard Camera app from Google. Both iOS and Android are able to avail of the app. It’s got a few great examples and at least there’s some hope of you sharing your content with friends.