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Smartphone Companies may use VR to get the Last Laugh in Connected Car Race

Illustration for article titled Smartphone Companies may use VR to get the Last Laugh in Connected Car Race

One of the big benefits of autonomous cars is the freedom to do anything - ANYTHING! - while being chauffeured by your self-driving car. Like playing patty-cake for example...

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Illustration for article titled Smartphone Companies may use VR to get the Last Laugh in Connected Car Race

Or this...

To be honest, what most people will do is just waste the time - in the same way they waste time right now - on their phones!

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One of the features electronics companies and carmakers both expect you to pony up for in the future is for big(ger), high resolution displays to consume your content.

In fact, it’s such a big bet that Apple (Here’s What’s Really Happening with Connected Cars), Google (Google’s Car Division Is Bigger Than You Think), Microsoft (Engineering the Car of the Future), and Samsung are all getting into the automotive game.

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The trouble is, I don’t think anyone is thinking far enough ahead and connecting the dots with one of the other important things they’re working on - VR (and/or AR).

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Modern VR as we know it is far newer than the smartphone revolution we’ve just experienced. And there is nothing to suggest the rate of improvement on the technology will be any slower than what we’ve seen in the wider PC market over the last several decades, or in the smartphone market over the last ten years.

And while ten years is an eternity in the consumer electronics space (remember, the iPhone isn’t yet a decade old), ten years is little more than a blink in the automotive market.

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Samsung and Google launched smartphone-based “consumer” products in the last year. Oculus Rift and HTC/Valve Vive both also launch this year with first generation consumer products (tethered to gaming-spec PCs).

The experience so far is less than ideal.

The resolution is ok, but not great with a Samsung or LG Android phone with their 2K displays, and substantially worse on an iPhone with their far lower resolution 720p (6/6S) / 1080p (6+/6S+) displays.

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There is enough inherent lag to cause motion sickness no matter how tough a user thinks they are, and no matter how carefully the experience is designed.

The Rift and Vive experiences are better in some ways, but worse in others. They have better motion tracking to reduce (but not eliminate) motion sickness, but are clearly NOT portable. And their displays are only little better than the 2k phone displays.

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Are we there yet? Not even close. But the thing about the electronics industry is that it makes huge leaps every year. Which is a stark contrast to the auto industry’s 6-9 year product lifecycle.

VR experts are already predicting it will replace /coopt the smartphone within the next ten years.

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And if you thought Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Samsung were investing in the auto industry, you should check out what they’re doing with VR and AR.

Apple has bought several AR/VR companies, including one of the early AR pioneers named Metaio. Google led a $542 million round of funding for Magic Leap, who Tim Sweeney mentions above - it truly is amazing stuff. Microsoft announced HoloLens back in January 2015. And Samsung’s been working on VR far longer than they’ve had their partnership with Oculus that yielded the phone-based Gear VR accessory.

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Auto OEMs won’t even get though a full model cycle selling large displays in cars before realistic, immersive VR (probably driven by people’s phones) completely supplants it.

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Apple is likely to not even get through an entire automotive product cycle before facing the challenge of buyers skipping the options sheet in favor of cheaper - and non-integrated - consumer electronics-based VR.

At the end of the day this is going to be like phone navigation supplanting built-in factory navigation all over again - but it will happen much faster this time.

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It should come as no surprise that the players betting on the automotive space are hedging their bets (possibly without even realizing it yet) by also investing in VR/AR.

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