There are more than 12 new VR headsets launching in 2021, each of them an improvement on what we've seen so far in Virtual Reality Head Mounted Units (HMUs). What each of them do are a fantastic step forward in advancing HMU technology and adding more agency to developers and users. A lot of research and validation has already been done showing that the form factor and existing features work for quite a large audience, so moving cautiously forward makes good business sense.
Unfortunately that means the speed that we see new features is very cautious and not very fast. It also has not yet addressed fully the needs of a casual 1-2 hour player versus those who would like to spend more time within immersive experiences or getting work done. This isn't something that can be resolved with just adding more apps. We'll need to start with a few capabilities from the HMUs.
Feature Update: Notifications & Integrations
Needing to remove your headset to check back in on the outside world or even needing to think about the outside world is an immersion killer. The notion that there are two worlds works against how some define a shared metaverse. Allowing us to layer external information in one experience is a defining advancement for just about all technology, except for HMUs. With that in mind it becomes a bit of a no-brainer that our first shift toward rethinking and improving the experience would be to remove the need to remove your headset for basic information.
All computers and especially mobile devices have the ability to display many kinds of notifications. Notifications bring in data from other services to display in a user's device. That notification doesn't require much of your attention and doesn't take you far your current task, game, movie, conversation, or activity. It also means you don't need to turn away from your device for basic information.
Tie in existing APIs for things people care about
Similar to the cell phone revolution, HMUs should start making more use of existing services and platforms to expand the information users can access. We cannot completely ignore the outside world as some things are time sensitive and being informed about the world is still pretty important regardless of what we're currently doing. Basic things like the time and appointments would be a good place to start. We don't need to have our entire calendar presented to us, yet, but knowing I'll get a notification of an upcoming event on my calendar while wearing my headset relieves concerns that I'll miss something important.
Relieving the stress from worrying about missing an event can only add to the enjoyment of immersive experiences, and will increase usage of HMUs by non-gamers.
An Application Programming Interface (API) empowers services to send only the data it requests in a small and streamlined package. This allows for fast communication of information between two systems. This paradigm has existed for decades and is in use for websites, computers, automobiles, refrigerators, clocks, watches, flower pots, and all manner of electronics that need to get or send updated information to another system.
The best part about this is that there are APIs for just about any information you would want. Both paid and free services generally provide some way to get data that you can subscribe to either by receiving notifications or by calling their API. If you can think of the data there is possibly already an available API that will help you get it.
If you'd like to learn more about these APIs or to see just how much data is available here are a few website directories that list thousands of available APIs along with examples of how to use them:
Use existing human interface guidelines as a starting point
I'm not saying this would be trivial, but drawing from decades of UI research and user testing with cell phones and gaming user interfaces (UI) could jumpstart the solution for an HMU notification solution. There is no need to reinvent the dialog box or what a notification's structure, at least not to get started.
Apple, Google, and Microsoft are three of the largest computing companies in the world today. They serve the majority of users across their Operating Systems (OS) and are the current best sources for interface design and user data. Using what are established gestures, layouts, and behavior patters as a start HMU designers could get a jumpstart on the best ways to present a notification to a user.
We'll go deeper into this in a future installment in this series, as we3 have a few ideas on where VR differs from standard 2D interface design that we'd like to share.
If you would like to read more about what each company does when both designing their own interfaces and educating developers on interface best practices here are the interface guidelines they have created from decades of experience and user feedback:
Allow users to silence and opt out of notifications
As useful as notifications will be for users, so will being able to silence notifications in order to focus on your current tasks. Building support info the HMU OS will be a great central hub for receiving information, but it is important to allow users and developers to have the tools to turn off external notifications and distractions within an app's settings.
Managing notifications is something that we expect to be a feature of the OS since being required to keep track of settings in every application could be a lot for a user. There should still be settings per app, but having a global setting is much more useful. Even though applications like ImmersedVR let you being your iOS device into VR this is just one application, and doesn't let pass through notifications into other apps.
Being able to disable notifications, either permanently or temporarily, is already an understood feature on other devices that allows users to choose when they want to allow external notifications to reach them. Turning off notifications has many situational benefits and you see people doing this when watching movies, going into meetings, or when they feel like shutting out the rest of the world. Bringing this into our HMU workflow just makes sense.
This is part one in our series, be sure to check back for future installments. Are we on the right track? Are we way outside the realm of plausibility? Let us know how you feel about what we're thinking about a world where HMUs would be worn the majority of the day for all of our activities.