I love seeing people get excited about their first taste of VR. The sooner more people experience the transformative power of VR, the better. But if the high-powered, desktop headsets that are coming next year are the main course for virtual reality, then viewing 360-degree video using Google Cardboard is an amuse-bouche at best. It’s a decent first taste, but 360 video is as far from real VR as seeing the Grand Canyon through a Viewmaster is from standing at the edge of the canyon’s South Rim.
With technology as potentially polarizing as VR, I worry that the slightest hiccup will have a negative impact on people’s perception—and adoption—of that tech. And The New York Times giving millions of people access to the limited VR experience of Google Cardboard and 360 videos could prove to be a surprising setback for the new technology. Because VR is tightly integrated with your sense of vision, bad experiences have a real, physical impact on users. Unlike a web page, where breaking design rules result in long load times or a page that’s difficult to navigate, breaking the rules in VR can induce nausea and even vomiting. And when bad design can make users physically ill, it’s less than an inconvenience—it’s a threat to the growth of VR itself.
At the lowest level, VR uses an array of sensors to precisely track the movement of your head. The computer then perfectly maps your head’s real-world movement onto your view of a virtual world. If you turn your head to the left in the real world, the computer exactly mimics your movement in the rendered world. When executed perfectly, VR tricks your brain into thinking that what you see is real, on both a conscious and subconscious level.