- As computing and display technologies improve, virtual reality and augmented reality technologies are being revived by major technology companies.
- Intense competition by Facebook/Oculus, Sony Morpheus and Samsung Gear VR/Blink undermined Google’s position as an industry leader.
- Investment in Magic Leap should help Google maintain its leading position.
In the last couple of years, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) markets have heated up as the internet-of-things (IoT) evolved and wearable devices entered our lives.
Virtual reality is described in Wikipedia as a “computer-simulated environment that can simulate physical presence in places in the real world or imagined worlds.” As VR is used to create an alternative reality for the user, it is widely recognized as a gaming device. Many remember VR from the 90s, when it was considered to be the future of the gaming industry. Revival of the VR, thanks to computing and display technology improvement, opens this technology to new usages, such as entertainment, military, and medical.
Wikipedia describes augmented reality as a “live direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented (or supplemented) by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data.” Augmented reality is designed to enhance the way people see the real-world environment as opposed to virtual reality that aims to replace the real-world environment. Even though the two technologies have different usages, they have much in common as features can be shared between them to simplify the development process.
In 2012, Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL) unveiled Google Glass, an augmented reality headset, and selectively released the first versions of the Glass for $1500 apiece. First release was to early adopters in 2013 and one year later to the general public for a limited period. The hype Google created around it through the limited availability, fashion firms’ interest, and technology innovation, heated the market thus triggering tech companies to enter it. The Google Glass could turn into a significant revenue potential for Google.
Earlier this year, Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) acquired the virtual reality company behind the Rift headset, Oculus for $2 billion in stock and cash. Oculus Rift is a virtual reality headset initially targeted for gaming; however, when announcing the acquisition, Facebook already noted that they will expand Rift’s offering beyond just gaming. Even though current prototypes of Rift do not try to compete with Google Glass, it is inevitable that Facebook will use Oculus Rift to provide their version of Google Glass. In opposition to Facebook and Google, Sony (NYSE:SNE) targets its virtual reality headset currently only to the gaming society. Sony’s virtual reality headset named Morpheus will accompany its latest game console and offer gamers an advanced gaming environment. Sony specifically designed Morpheus for the gaming industry; however, some of the features and intellectual properties used in Morpheus could be re-used in an augmented reality headset to compete with Google Glass. Sony will probably make the move into the AR market in case the market develops enough to provide it with a real opportunity.
As with many other technology trends, Samsung had no plans to be left behind in the race for virtual reality (VR) headsets/augmented reality (AR) glasses. The company unveiled the Gear VR at its September event. The new Gear VR is a virtual reality headset device developed in partnership with Oculus and Marvel and targeted at entertainment content. It works by connecting a Galaxy Note phone to the back. Samsung did not stop with the Gear VR; it plans to introduce an augmented reality headset named Samsung Blink to compete directly with Google Glass. Very little information is known about the Samsung Blink, but it is expected to run Samsung Tizen OS and be seamlessly connected to the Gear and Galaxy by Samsung.
As the VR/AR market is heating up, and Google is starting to feel the pressure, the company announced a $542 million investment in the small augmented reality start-up, Magic Leap. The Florida-based start-up offers improvements for the current augmented reality technology available and implements 3D high-resolution objects into the existing augmented reality. The company unveils very little information on its website about the technology; however, according to CNET, beyond implementing 3D objects into augmented reality, the company’s technology keeps Glass users from experiencing nausea.
After Facebook had acquired VR market leader Oculus, Sony launched Morpheus, and Samsung introduced Gear VR and Blink, Google found itself behind the competition in the VR/AR market. In order to keep its leading position and to fight back against the other players, Google invested in a unique technology that could enable 3D objects to be integrated into its Glass display. This investment provides Google with a unique cutting-edge technology and helps it to maintain its market leader position.
Disclosure: Information provided in this article is for informational purposes only and should not be regarded as investment advice or a recommendation regarding any particular security or course of action. This information is the writer's opinion about the companies mentioned in the article. Investors should conduct their own due diligence and consult with a registered financial adviser before making any investment decision. Lior Ronen and Finro Financial Consulting and Analysis are not registered financial advisers and shall not have any liability for any damages of any kind whatsoever relating to this material. By accepting this material, you acknowledge, understand and accept the foregoing.