Tech wars aren’t anything new at this point, and neither is the over-hyped arrival of new tech that eventually fades into obscurity. A great deal of this innovative tech is introduced with an entertainment angle to recuperate costs or stand out in the market that topped $100 billion in 2019. The promotional campaigns are invariably massive, and the battles are jumped on by media and prospective customers alike.
When two major companies go head-to-head, only one winner will emerge from the big-money battle, while the other becomes a footnote in another company’s history book. We saw it with VHS versus Betamax and with Blu-ray versus HD DVD, with there being just one clear winner for both of these once-emerging techs. Right now, we find ourselves in the midst of an emerging ‘reality tech’ scene. So, looking through the lens of recently hyped technologies that didn’t stand the test of time, how will today’s new tech fare in the years to come?
The struggles of so-called breakthrough technologies
Perhaps the most notable piece of tech that faded almost as quickly as it arrived was Google Glass. Essentially delivering sci-fi utility, it offered voice and motion controls, displayed information directly in front of the user via a right-sided visual overlay, and could take photos and videos. It even became useful for those who actually need glasses, offering versions for prescription lenses. It was revolutionary when it finally launched in 2012, with Google going all-in on marketing it on a global scale as the driving tech of the future.
For all intents and purposes, Google Glass as we knew it was called off in 2015. It turned out that a $1,500 price tag was simply too much for most, and the discreet video recording feature also didn’t sit well with the general public. Google Glass wasn’t really able to rise to prominence in the mainstream and was merely forced into the spotlight by a big company flexing its power. One bit of tech that did make it, for a time, was 3D TV.
There was a time that 3D viewing was all the rage, or was at least at a stage where people tolerated its use. The movie Avatar, in 2009, changed the game, showcasing an experience-changing application of 3D, spurring a perceived 3D craze on the big screen. With more and more movies released in 3D, home television companies decided to jump on the fad and create premium sets that catered to what would surely be a surge of 3D content. However, everything required to play such content proved far too expensive for an altered, if not weakened experience, and there wasn’t enough coming by way of 3D entertainment.
In the UK, Sky Sports attempted to make waves by hosting a 3D football channel, playing Premier League matches to the few who owned 3D TV sets. Right now, 4K TV is the big-ticket item, showing content in Ultra-HD, with people being suspicious of its adoption due to the crumble of 3D TVs. However, 4K is simply better than the standard and doesn’t require specialized additional gear, so it looks set to stick around.
Not to drive the stake into the mega-corporation further, but Google has a track record of hyping its new tech before swiftly killing the projects – giving rise to the famous Google graveyard. Its latest world-changing excursion saw Google attempt to muscle into the premium gaming market, with tech that was supposed to uproot the hardware-centric entertainment medium. Google said that Stadia would easily deliver triple-A games to any device that can play YouTube via the cloud, along with a bunch of other innovative features. Stadia launched in November 2019 and was swiftly declared dead on arrival. It lacked games, opted for a business model that didn’t differ from the standard – with many hoping for a ‘Netflix of gaming’ – didn’t work without the strongest of internet connections, and didn’t have half of its self-hyped features.
Now that Google has closed its first-party games development and entertainment studio, it likely won’t be long before Stadia is officially put down. Cloud gaming may still have a future with Xbox weighing in more tentatively, but the limitations of most households still hold it as a potential future gaming solution.
Which tech will survive from the current wave?
Right now, the emerging tech centres around enhancing an experience, the user’s reality, and putting them in that moment. Due to the audacity of the product, its distinct aesthetics, and how genuinely immersive it can be, virtual reality (VR) tends to be the hot topic around emerging tech. Price point, fiddly apparatus, and the quality of applicable products have been an issue, but the Oculus platform and its range of productivity apps are proving that many everyday activities can be enhanced in the immersive environment.
It’s groundwork like this that could lead to widespread adoption and useful applications in business. Coming from a crowd-funding project, only to be snapped up for billions to the disgruntlement of the funders, the Facebook product is cheaper, offers next-gen graphics, and doesn’t require wires. A much more subtle and mainstream application of in-the-moment technologies is that of interactive live streaming, which has been made popular by online casino platforms. Live streaming isn’t anything new, but the rise of web-based forms of entertainment, particularly live casino experiences, that see the user play in real-time at a physical location via the stream showcases the next step in the tech. The sheer volume of these live table and game show games available shows the demand and the innovations applied to expand its offering.
Virtual reality has many obstacles to overcome, particularly user adoption and even its perception as a game-only technology, despite the potential of its application for overall entertainment, training, and business. Often discussed alongside VR is augmented reality (AR), which was essentially what Google Glass was going for, but didn’t truly break into the mainstream until a certain monster-catching mobile game was released in 2016. AR is less immersive than VR but has an edge in being easier to adopt, less dependent on expensive new hardware purchases, and has a wider potential spread of applications.
Both Apple and Facebook are reportedly developing augmented reality tech extensively behind the scenes, for now, though, the issues slowing rollouts are that hardware, platforms, and developers aren’t quite ready to deliver products that customers simply aren’t eager enough to have just yet.
Of them all, VR is the most impressive but faces similar obstacles as 3D TV, and yet it could still very well carve out a place in gaming until the tech becomes accessible enough for the mainstream. Interactive live streaming looks to revolutionize ever-popular streaming platforms, potentially beyond entertainment, gradually. Still, it’s AR that could prove the be the most impactful should the right formula of application be found.