NYT: VR and AR have entered the trough of disappointment

“Not every technology needs to be in the hands of billions of people to make a difference.” — New York Times columnist Shira Ovide

From “V.R. is not a hit. That’s OK,” in her Tuesday On Tech newsletter:

Not so long ago, V.R. was predicted to become a Very Big Deal, but instead most of us are happy to ignore it. The same goes for a similar technology called augmented reality, which mixes virtual images with the real world and allows people to check out how a pair of shoes might look with their outfit or play the Pokémon Go smartphone game in the park.

Sales of some V.R. systems like Facebook’s Oculus did increase during the pandemic, and it’s possible that V.R. and augmented reality could still make it big as Apple, Facebook and other companies keep working on the technologies. For years, though, they have remained far outside the mainstream…

I’ve written before about our affinity for cool technology over more pedestrian advances, and how this fixation can lead to overheated predictions that the latest flashy tech thing will take over the world. Our interest wanes if something turns out instead to be Not That Big of a Deal.

This pattern of hope for a cool new tech, followed by disappointment and then a possible second act is so common that the industry research group Gartner has given it a name: the hype cycle, with a low point (the “trough of disillusionment”) about where V.R. has been.

After the trough comes the slope of enlightenment, when people retool to figure out where a technology could be put to more effective use. (You either love these metaphors or you hate them.) The outcome may not be as momentous or world-changing as initially hoped, but that doesn’t make a technology pointless.

Like V.R., driverless cars may never hit the road in huge numbers— or they might! — but there are potential uses for short-haul delivery vans or fixed routes in office parks. Bitcoin seems so far like a pointless speculative plaything, but similar financial technologies could find a purpose in enabling collective ownership of communal projects like internet networks or local news organizations.

My take: Like her metaphors, but not sure about her premise. To make a dent in the universe from Apple’s point of view, a new product needs an addressable market in — if not billions — then tens of millions.


  1. Fred Stein said:
    Warning: Not a polite comment.

    People who conflate AR and VR have no insight, just buzzword repeaters. Cook has been clear for a long time – AR yes, silent on VR.

    Then, Shira piles on with autonomous driving, Bitcoin, and the Gartner Hype Cycle, which was first published in 1995.

    January 6, 2021
  2. Fred Stein said:
    Now constructive:

    Cook understands AR as a way to enrich experiences – classic Apple thinking. Apple gives developers AR tools to create better experiences on Apple’s IB of over 1.5B flat screens – brilliant.

    AR is just one more way that Apple makes our lives better. Apple Watch provides the quickest and most secure way to buy groceries, even without a wallet or smartphone.

    All these little things add up. Soon enough, add up to a $200 share.

    January 6, 2021
  3. Jerry Doyle said:
    I believe deeply that Tim Cook has a very good grasp on this issue and that his conviction that AR has a bright future more than VR is correct. I see VR taking hold in the far away future, but in the near future it will be AR.

    I also believe Apple will be a leader in AR. It will be similar to the way the Apple Watch unfolded. It will start slowly, gradually take hold and after a period begin to spread its wings and fly.

    I see much business and consumer utility to AR for it not to become functional and utilitarian. Even as I write, the Watch still is in its embryonic public embracement and even many Apple Watch users still do not understand fully the power and all the utility of functions contained within that Watch on their wrist. One day they will discover those features.

    So yes, I see AR being introduced similarly by Apple; and, it will create a new revenue stream as the Apple Watch created.

    January 6, 2021
  4. Fred Stein said:
    About 7 years ago, I was asked to research VR as a strategic new technology. Could not connect the dots. It’s too immersive to become mainstream.

    There are valid VR use cases, which can create viable business. The only one that Apple may pursue is immersive games. But why? AR games provide a lovely add-on revenue stream on devices that people already own. VR would require a device dedicated to VR.

    Apple devices gain share in every category, precisely because Apple and 3rd party developers make them useful for more functions for more people all the time.

    January 6, 2021
  5. bas flik said:
    vr is not working with the brain. causes headache and nausea.
    was hype aswell in the 90s.
    i tried one month ago with an architect. he showed me his work with VR. in 10 seconds i felt already unwell.

    January 6, 2021
  6. Steven Philips said:
    The fault (and the hype) dear Shira, is not in our technologies but in our journalists.
    They’re the ones who tell the public that all of these things are “the future.” The public is not telling them. Now she backtracks.

    Dag Bas.
    Was the architects work THAT bad? 🙂

    January 6, 2021
  7. Robert Stack said:
    Shira tries hard to be “hip” in a way that doesn’t quite work – at least for me. Yet I regularly read her column ever hopeful it will get better, but it never does…sigh! She is decidedly anti-Apple, just like her predecessor Brian Chen. Gone are the days of David Pogue, who actually knew something about tech – and especially Apple!

    January 6, 2021

Leave a Reply