Posted on February 16, 2023 in Technology

Could AR ever be used in an office setting?

Home Offices

A home office is often a place of respite. Quiet. Calm. Personalized organization. Companies looking to save money on renting a space may go for work-from-home solutions, no matter their size, and even people who work in an office may still choose to make an office space in their home, whether that’s just a desk in the corner of the living room or a whole spare bedroom, because it makes paperwork and keeping important documents organized easier. In essence, the idea of a home office is incredibly customizable and flexible. If you call it your home office, and it’s not superseded by being a dining room table, it’s a home office.

So, when Zuckerburg announced plans to make ‘virtual offices’, many people were put off, but many more were intrigued. A home office is obviously not a perfect substitute for the kind a business rents out to use, for better or worse. Could Meta Company somehow improve it?

Fun and Games

What Zuckerberg presented combined the worst aspects of VR Chat, the worst aspects of Slack, and the worst aspects of the headset itself. The headset is designed to make you feel like you’re actually seeing a different environment when you move your head, and it does it so well that a percentage of people with VR headsets report headaches – the brain is receiving conflicting information that it can’t sort out, and it doesn’t like that.

The virtual office concept allowed you to look across a virtual desk with a virtual keyboard to see your virtual colleagues, who could perform gestures and small expressions to indicate some sort of feeling. The thing about this system is that it’s annoying – the benefits of being work-from-home include not being in the work office, and being in your home office physically but not in spirit pretty much cancels that out. Under this system, other users could theoretically tell when you’d stepped away – the feeling of being watched in the work office was fine, but it wasn’t in the home office, where workers expected to feel like they were in their home and not in the panopticon.

Walmart Too…?

So many of these ideas seem to think that adding a need to traverse a 3D virtual space somehow improves the idea of a virtual experience. Walmart thought that you might miss actually walking up and down the aisles when they premiered their virtual solution to online shopping, which is by far the worst part of going to a Walmart Supercenter. They added physics to items so your avatar could grab them and put them in the cart instead of just clicking buttons, which makes shopping take longer and also increases the risk of the application bugging out on you. They offered to link up to your smart fridge, so they could remind you that you already have milk in there while you’re grabbing it in the app, allowing you to confirm that you did in fact mean to grab more milk, adding a prompt to do so. The entire idea from top to bottom seemed to hope that you’d spend more money if their app made you work more.

This is not the way VR was meant to re-invent the office, or the remote shopping-experience, or any experience that’s annoying or difficult to do. When customers are shopping in person, the other people are part of the experience (especially in small towns). When they’re shopping over an app, the customer has to be able to find what they want as easily as possible, with as little friction as possible, and it doesn’t get much simpler than searching for an item in a search bar and hitting ‘add to cart’. It’s the worst of both worlds.

It’s almost as if they’re trying to retroactively come up with stuff for the headset to do that they already have easy access to, vs. actually researching and developing programs specifically for VR. VRs shine brightest in games because of the way they function, but if Facebook’s CEO doesn’t believe in the future of games as a product, then there’s going to be a lot of running around trying to make other products more game-like so they’ll fit better. Walmart’s VR demonstration felt like dozens of games, across all genres, simulating everything from stocking shelves to driving trucks. It’s bizarre to try and use it as a virtual world that’s just as boring and simple as the real one – if you’re going to have a virtual Walmart or a virtual office, surely you can do something more entertaining with the surrounding environment than one that the user can already go visit at almost any time? That’s completely the wrong feeling, but it’s the one VR sinks into most naturally, because it’s the only real justification for the product being sold.

There’s room for AR, but not like this!