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What's next for business VR in 2021?

HTC Vive
(Image credit: HTC)

To say 2020 was a tumultuous year would be generous, but when I look back it was definitely a landmark year for VR, with 2021 set to bring even more growth for the industry. Although we entered 2021 in another lockdown, the world of business VR has a lot to offer.

Here are my predictions on what the VR industry can look forward to this year. 

About the author

Graham Wheeler is HTC VIVE EMEA General Manager at HTC

The changing face of remote working

Last year during the first lockdown and travel restrictions, there was a short time where a lot of our external meetings were cancelled entirely – but people adapted quickly to working remotely, and moving into the summer, we actually ended up having more meetings than ever before. 

Major companies across the world have already made it clear that they won’t ask employees to go back to the old model of working almost exclusively in offices, embracing the opportunity to improve work/life balance, and not forcing people to live in major cities. 

From our research on the future of remote collaboration, a third of respondents (36%) expressed exhaustion after being faced with hours of video calls, with nearly half (47%) craving more face-to-face meetings to break the monotony of Zoom calls. There is much to be done to ensure the workforce remains engaged, with VR being an important solution.

Improved capabilities

Hand-tracking was a hot topic in 2020, with lots of new players offering plenty of innovations in this area – most of the industry has actually been experimenting with it for quite some time. Hand-tracking makes VR feel even more futuristic and intuitive, and adds another new way for users to interact - particularly when sitting in meetings in the workplace. 2021 will see more tech developed to make interactions natural – hand-tracking, more accurate body tracking, as well as facial expressions. It’s a level of immersion that will help different industries and workplaces adjust more to virtual meetings and remote collaboration.

Better hardware

The shift in remote working meant that suddenly hardware became a big focus – people needed good laptops, monitors, mics and webcams. It also led to a rise in tools which support remote collaboration. Adoption of VR-based tools has been increasing across a range of industries for everything from designing products, through to carrying out basic training for employees. As we continue to work from home with the “new norm”, we can expect businesses to continue investing and upgrading to better hardware, including more uptake of VR technology.

Improved network

5G remains an important step forward for VR, for the added capacity and improved latency it offers. 2021 will see a focus on workplace deployment and more home solutions being developed. The potential for 5G in the workplace is huge, and we already work with a number of organisations who operate private 5G networks, which is especially suited to VR. Meetings can run entirely on a network, without interruption, complex 3D models can be uploaded in seconds and shared for real-time feedback.

Growing industry

On the developer side of things, the industry continues to grow stronger. There’s more talent joining the industry every day, and projects range from crowd funding through to corporate investment. The uncertainty around COVID meant that in some sectors investment slowed down, but overall we saw that VR continued to remain strong. We expect to see recruitment in this area continue to grow and be a key economic driver across EMEA in 2021 and beyond.

Someone asked me the other day - “I have a three-hour meeting, why would I do that in VR, wouldn’t it be uncomfortable?” But is that meeting comfortable in real life? Are you able to focus for the entire time? Sometimes the problem is that we’ve become conditioned and accustomed to things like long meetings - we just accept the time drain. 

The truth is that virtual reality is offering flexibility for workplaces like never before, allowing people to work from anywhere in the world. It is still only in the early stages of growth, but 2020 has shown us there is strong interest for businesses. The high-end of the B2B market has already seen a flurry of device launches at the end of 2020, again proving the demand. 

Omdia predicts that by 2025 the VR industry will be worth $10 billion, and 2021 is a critical element, continuing the momentum built in 2020 now that VR is undoubtedly established. VR is definitely one to watch, both on a technological and economical level in 2021.