I was in the Galino Island bookstore last year when I noticed upfront a display for a new book getting a lot of publicity from the mainstream media. I forget the title, but it was a book that proved to eventually be inconsequential to the ongoing history of mankind.
I noted my surprise to the bookstore owner that this book, whose content is fluff, was so prominent in his store, and that there were so many copies available to purchase.
"We need those best-sellers to stay in business," he huffed.
It's no different for the very different business of computers. It needs a best-seller every so often to boost profits; now it has reached an era were computers and smartphones are mature technologies that no longer excite; worse, they no longer need upgrading.
So every few years, the computer biz bets on a new technology and then hypes it to death -- like Quadraphonic Sound in the 1970s (four speakers instead of two) and 3D TV in the 2010s (three dimensions instead of two).
The purpose behind Qudraphonic technology was to boost sales by selling consumers two more speakers and a new, replacement receiver (an amplifier with an AM/FM tuner built-in). Quadraphonic sound failed because the software never emerged to take advantage of it, software in the form of vinyl records and cassette tapes. But it failed also because stereo systems were relatively expensive back then: when a family purchased one, it expected to keep it for decades to come.
(I still use the Marantz receiver I bought in 1977; it has the obligatory "Quadraphonic-ready" label. With inflation, buying it then was like spending $1,000 today.)
(The music industry was able to force consumers to switch to the new technology of CDs by cutting off the supply of vinyl records. This burn-the-bridge tactic is rarely available.)
From the Quadraphonic example we learn that new technology is not about consumers buying just one new item. Getting into VR(virtual reality) isn't about buying a $600 virtual reality headset only. Industries design a cost-multiplier into new technologies: Quadraphonic sound required a new receiver + two new speakers + speaker wire + new albums. Consumers saw little benefit for a lot of cost.
(5.1 sound succeeded, because it became the default for new systems, which, along with the six loudspeakers, were relatively cheap compared to earlier decades. 5.1 arrived at a time when aging boomers could afford to replace the stereo systems that they had bought in their college days. Most software is in the form of movies on DVDs, which throw in the 5.1 sound effects for free. Unlike music, which we listen to over and over again, movies are a toss-away medium, so consumers were acquiring new software anyhow.)
The hope for 3D TV followed the same history as quad-sound: adding one more dimension to the image was designed to require consumers spend on a new TV + one or more 3D glasses + new software (movies). On the industry side, there was new software for creating and editing 3D movies, tracking equipment and suits for actors to wear -- I saw all this while visiting a Siggraph at the time and was stunned how the players in the industry were congratulating themselves on how big 3D TV would become. "You don't count your chickens before they hatch," as the old saying goes.
The industry made it easy for consumers by throwing in 3D into TVs. Even my digital projector is 3D-ready! It didn't work. Consumers had just purchased big-screen plasma and LCD screens a couple years earlier and weren't about go throw out a perfectly good set in so short a time.
The actual segment killer, however was the wearing of the polarizing glasses. It made people look geeky to each other, didn't necessarily fit properly for the two or more hours of viewing, and was one more barrier to starting the movie. People'll wear them when they are anonymous in darkened movie theaters, but darn-sure not around family and friends! Plus, the faked stereo effect (achieved by quickly alternating the image seen by the left and right eyes) gave a portion of consumers headaches.
In the end, 3D is relegated to an extra-cost option at movie theaters where patrons get to watch digital movies, cartoons usually, at half-resolution.
Why VR Will Fail
History is important, because it helps us understand the future. From the examples I have given, perhaps you can already understand why VR will fail.
If not, then here is why: VR requires a boot-like head-mounted display (that looks stupider on people than 3D glasses) + purchasing the most powerful hardware (very expensive new smartphones or new computers) + new software in the form of VR movies. All these hindrances, plus viewing VR gives a segment of users vertigo.
In return, users get to view something in 360 degrees, when by nature humans want to be directed linearly in their reading, hearing, and viewing of storylines -- or even driving on 1D roads, walking along 1D sidewalks, and through 1D airport security checks. Multiple viewpoints are a no-go for the human brain.
It is a hard lesson for the tech industry to learn that people require 2D interfaces with 1D (0-degree) storylines. This is the way in which brain of the human species operates. For many people, 3 minutes experience with VR satisfies them for the rest of their natural lives.
(Smartphones succeeded, because they provided so much more utility -- cell phone, GPS, music player, ebook reader, text messaging, et al -- often for $0 through telephone provider subsidies. The only ancillary cost was perhaps an optional case. In this example, the cost to the consumer was cheap: smartphone + nothing else.)
The most important reason for VR to fail is to ensure that our children spend more time outside and less time with their faces glued inside a skiboot. The tech industry is left wanting the consumer to want something that the consumer doesn't want to consume.