VR reaches the next level

“2018 is the year we all need to stop making excuses and jump head first into the unknown. We must embrace these technologies and understand the future of media will not be driven by what we’re already comfortable with.”

Technology in the coming year will be overwhelming, if not scary. But if you aren’t planning to embrace the challenges, then you’re missing an opportunity to learn and connect with new audiences. So as not to overwhelm you with a laundry list of relevant tech, let’s focus on a handful I expect will disrupt our industry in 2018.

In the new year, people will get real about virtual reality. Audience adoption will grow considerably as lower-cost headsets enter the market, but so will their expectations of what true VR is. We’ll begin to see a slow shift from dedicated monoscopic 360° video pieces in exchange for high-production-value interactive experiences. These changes will drive the demand to produce high-quality content, which will be difficult to achieve, so you’ll see fewer organizations supporting the platform. Organizations that do continue to support the development of virtual reality projects will create some of the best narrative-driven experiences we’ve ever seen.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention augmented reality. This emerging platform is quickly catching up to virtual reality, but don’t expect AR to be a mainstream platform in 2018. We’ll begin to see more AR applications, but most will be limited to 3D objects appearing above a surface when a user points their phone’s camera at a printed image — I call this smoke and mirrors, as that tech has been available for years. With native integration of AR functionality into mobile devices (ARKit and ARCore), you should start seeing the breadcrumbs of the platform’s future with the introduction of goofy looking AR-enabled eyewear later in the year.

I expect someone reading this will be the first in our industry to develop a functioning AR news platform built for the new glasses. The user experience and functionality will be clunky, but the prototype will drastically change the way we think about media consumption and location-based personalization beyond the screen of a mobile phone.

In an effort to support the expanded development needs of virtual and augmented reality experiences, you’ll begin to see the creation of dedicated teams that closely resemble that of videogame development studios. These teams will be made up of a diverse group of journalists, designers, and developers. A new audience will begin to take notice as these development teams push the boundaries of interactive storytelling. It will be a challenge, but organizations that have been dedicated to supporting immersive technologies will reach a new and more connected audience.

Accessing media will be easier than ever before, thanks to visual discovery applications powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning. These technologies will allow users to surface content through text, image, and facial recognition by simply aiming their phone’s camera at a point-of-interest. Relevant content will be surfaced providing the user an opportunity to explore and discover stories within their communities.

2018 is the year we all need to stop making excuses and jump head first into the unknown. We must embrace these technologies and understand the future of media will not be driven by what we’re already comfortable with. Take risks and trust your teams; their passion is infectious. Expect a few failures, but if you emerge without a few scrapes, then you’re doing it all wrong.

Ray Soto is director of emerging technologies at Gannett.

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