This article was originally published on the DMI Blog.
Word on the street is that Qantas Airlines and Samsung are forming a partnership to bring virtual reality to first class travelers. An article in Fast Co. states that Samsung will provide the airline with a Samsung Gear VR kit for each first class seat on Airbus A380s, which would include the headset, Galaxy Note phone, and headphones. The partnership is clearly an effort to get more people experiencing the wonders of virtual reality and considering purchasing a Samsung product, but as I read the article my question was: are planes the right place for a virtual reality demo?
On the one hand, a long flight where you’re basically confined to your seat is the perfect time to immerse yourself in another more pleasurable world. I can imagine a cross-country flight flying by as I narrowly avoid gunfire in a game, examine the process of creating a plane in a factory tour, or possibly even checking out my destination before I arrive. Honestly, any one of those things (especially the last) would be a great use of time during travel and I can see people really jumping on board. However, on the other hand you have the actual physical effects that VR can have on your body and how they might be compounded with the physical effects of air travel.
One of the first things people noticed about the technology was that it could lead to bad nausea. Now in more recent versions, developers have figured out ways to make the motion of turning your head and looking around feel more natural so that it doesn’t feel like the world turns into a messy blur every time you want to look at something. That said, air travel also has a tendency to make people nauseous and together, the two sensations could make for a nasty experience.
The pairing of those two sensations is actually the biggest issue I see with using virtual reality in transit. What makes something truly virtual reality is when your eyes and ears fool your brain into thinking it’s somewhere else doing something else. When you watch people engage with VR, their bodies often react on instinct to things that they’re seeing in the headset and their faces show a strange mix of both excitement and confusion as their brain works to process it’s environment. As weird as that is, it’s all well and good when the stimuli outside of the VR experience are limited. When you’re on a plane however, you may be seated but the plane is moving, the air is pressurized, and the clouds are vigorously trying to shake you up. While you’re in the air with VR, there’s a good chance what you’re seeing and hearing isn’t going to match up with what you’re feeling from the plane. And when your mind and body disagree, you’re bound to have some weird reactions.
VR is soon to be a bandwagon that lots of brands want to jump on because there are so many different possibilities to create. Despite my above analysis, I actually think there’s some great potential for enhancing VR through motion, touch, smell, and maybe one-day even taste. To be successful, those sensory elements have to be built to integrate with the technology so that people fall even deeper into the virtual world. It’s a little like going on a ride at an amusement park, like the Escape from Gringotts at Harry Potter World, where your seats move and shake with what’s happening on-screen. The goal is to give you a certain amount of time where you forget the world around you and for that time you ARE a soldier, or an astronaut, or an engineer, or whatever the character happens in that world happens to be. If you’re not taken into that world as completely as possible (there are bound to be some factors you can’t control) your perception will be disjoined and uncomfortable. It’ll feel virtual, but it won’t feel like reality.
For marketers, it’s always exciting to try out the latest new technologies. You desperately want to create unique experiences that put your brand out in front of competitors and simultaneously do something fun and engaging that your customers will remember. That said it’s equally important that we really think through the best uses for that technology and where and when it won’t work. There are always a ton of factors that can affect an experience and though it’s tedious to try and consider them all, even a small negative aspect can skew perceptions of an otherwise great piece of work.
I hope that Qantas has given enough thought to how their partnership might shake out. As I said, I think there are some major positives about having something so engaging available on long flights, and personally, in theory, I’d love to get on a plane and just play around somewhere else until I got to my destination. So as you think about all that I’ve just said, keep your fingers crossed that the partnership is a success, otherwise Qantas first class is about to get verrryy messy.