Last Year: Facebook Invests in Virtual Reality
For years, Oculus Rift was the company you couldn't help rooting for. It didn't matter that virtual reality is still a solution in search of a problem, as it was during the technology's first, disastrous go-around a quarter-century ago. There was simply no resisting the boundless enthusiasm of Oculus' boy wonder CEO, Luckey Palmer, or the mythos that surrounded his hand-built prototypes. Plus, everyone who tried on those coveted goggles raved about the experience, describing this second coming of VR with the giddy reverence of a freshly recruited cult member.
But Oculus Rift needed more funding to release a true product, and to share its miracle with the wider world. Last March, money became the least of the start-up's worries, when Facebook bought the company for $20 billion. Some Kickstarter backers were outraged at having contributed to a David that wound up joining Goliath's team. And by the end of 2014, Oculus had yet to produce a mainstream product, or to prove, once and for all, that there's a place for virtual reality in our world.
Whatever happens to Oculus, other companies took notice, and 2014 saw Google, Samsung and Sony all taking their own stabs at VR. Some of the industry's biggest players are either ushering in the age of ultra-immersive interfaces predicted by the likes of The Lawnmower Man, or they're squandering their riches on a Kickstarted pipe dream.
This Year: More Hype, Now With Holograms
So far, the biggest development in VR technology in 2015 might not even qualify as VR. In January, Microsoft unveiled its HoloLens project, which works like a cross between Google Glass and the Oculus Rift. When you wear the goggles, HoloLens displays what Microsoft calls holograms in your field of vision. These digital objects won't appear to the non-goggled, and could range from elements of a video game to a more 3D version of the windows and screens that Google Glass displayed. This technology won't compete with the Rift, but it occupies the same general space of systems that look silly to wear, but that could drastically alter the way you interact with digital systems. Unfortunately, HoloLens also doesn't have a release date, or a price.