Meta's (META) struggles with the world of virtual reality aside, Daniel O'Brien, Americas president of VR headset developer HTC Vive, contends the technology is spreading in the corporate world and will eventually become a mainstream consumer product.
It could even be as popular as the smartphone one day, O'Brien told Yahoo Finance (video above).
The technology, known as the "metaverse," immerses users in a digital simulation of the real world. To be sure, it is far from fully formed. For years, companies have pitched immersive products like VR as the next frontier in mainstream technology. No company has invested more in the metaverse than Meta (META), whose Reality Labs division cost the platform nearly $4 billion in the first quarter of 2023. The division saw cutbacks last year.
Beyond Meta's troubles, O'Brien said corporations are driving advancements and are creating wearable VR products with “real-world” professional applications. Some examples include allowing medical instructors to reach larger classes while maintaining high quality training and enabling manufacturers to test products before they exist in the tangible world.
For example, HTC’s VIVE headsets have been used by surgeons and firefighters to train them in a safe, virtual setting, O'Brien said.
According to HTC, students who have used the VIVE Focus 3 headset have practiced in a virtual surgery room from home. Firefighters who used VIVE Pro Eye and the VIVE FLAIM Trainer were able to make graphics in the line of sight more visible in training.
“The long game is actually bringing the headsets and the technology into lighter, more wearable, easier ergonomics connected to a network – and then actually changing out the use cases,” O’Brien said.
HTC has been focused on advancing corporate-focused VR technology. In January, it unveiled the Vive XR Elite, its first standalone headset. Engadget described the product as intended to rival Meta’s Quest Pro.
“[It’s] something that's in the realm of glasses,” O’Brien said.
But the product is pricy. At $1,099, it costs around the price of a MacBook or an iPhone. O’Brien said that the XR Elite represents a step towards VR headsets overcoming major hurdles for consumer use. He predicted products will eventually become connected to the internet using 5G and 6G, as well as provide functionality for “digital overlays and digital introductions.”
When it comes to the overall metaverse market, the numbers are, of course, a bit pie in the sky at this point. O’Brien cited one projection from Citi that said it could be worth $8 trillion to $13 trillion by 2030.
But, he does think that overall, "we will see a very, very aggressive growth,” O’Brien said.