It's obvious VR is around the corner. Within two years several major technology companies will have VR solutions on the market. Valve's will have dual 1080p screens, one for each eye; within another couple years (or likely not even that long), 4K per eye will be reasonable, and the graphics tech to drive it won't be far behind. Valve's tech – dual 1080p – is currently the best offering of the current crop of devices. People who have used it write that the motion tracking is more or less seamless, but resolution is still the major crippling factor for true immersion.
4K per eye still won't be seamless. The human eye can register plenty more detail than that. 8K will be a bit closer to the mark. But the thought that fully-realized virtual worlds will be within consumer reach shortly, and that the tech should get really good (surely 8K per eye and beyond) in the decade following that, makes my mind go in all sorts of directions. I realize that this is a really big moment. Like, huge on a level hardly anyone is really comprehending yet.
In order to explain how I think about this, a detour.
Much of human nature seems to be entertainment. This almost entitlement to feeling satisfied, tickled, impressed, or taken on a journey. We may want to watch something scary, or hear something beautiful, or go somewhere serene. Whatever our desire may be, the root of the desire is the same: to be moved in some way. We also love exercising exacting control over what we are experiencing, and being able to retrieve, on demand, precisely the information that tickles our fancy. Fortunately it turns out much of the human race is endearingly benign with their informational demands and mostly prefer adorable photos of animals, learning about the things popular and successful people are doing, and hacking virtual monsters to death with their friends.
VR will bring about a whole new paradigm for retrieving information and entertainment. When you dig down into this and think about it, every computing interface you've ever seen has been designed around a 2D plane called a screen. We've been designing everything into a rectangle for decade after decade. But when you step into a virtual world, and lose that border delineating "stupidly awesome digital content box that gets you everything you ever wanted" from "rest of world which hardly does anything interesting", every bit of computing interface history and tradition falls by the wayside.
So we'll obviously need new standards for designing and delivering 3D web experiences. My (completely unfounded) guess is that web pages and browsers will evolve and transition into VR experiences over time, rather than some entirely new program or system being built up from scratch. It's just that in practice that rarely seems to happen – we generally push forward with what we've already got. Also, as a side note, Valve are lining themselves up to be a GIGANTIC part of – and at the forefront of – the upcoming VR explosion. By having added a VR interface to the Steam client early on, and VR support to their own games (paving the way for other developers to do so along the way), many many people are going to be using Steam for this stuff.
And that's rad – Valve are the best.
What would interacting with a web browser look like in a virtual world, considering you could examine the content in any direction, from any angle, at a whim? Probably the worst possible thing would be what we currently have – a flat rectangle of 2D content. Completely uninteresting to peer around and interact with. So imagine spatially laying out web content to take advantage of three dimensions instead of two. Different areas of the site, rather than being clicked on, could be simply looked at, or walked over to. A glance downward could let you quickly reference a site map. And if you consider how going 'back' or 'forward' would work, again probably the worst possible implementation would be what we've come up with for 2D displays, clicking a tiny box in the corner of your browser window. Going back through browsing history would far more satisfyingly involve physically moving back through the pages, and not in the delineated sort of way we're used to, but more like the elements of the last page you looked at are just pushed out of the way when a new one loads in. You could always look to your left and head over to what you were doing before, if you wanted to. I like that idea – looking left for "past". And that perhaps rather than having applications and web pages be individual worlds that are 'switched' between, designing them bring the pieces of their worlds into one seamless environment: yours.
This is obvously just scratching the surface, but is infinitely interesting to me, and obviously, gonna be massive.
Also, I wrote this post a few days before coming across a talk given by Michael Abrash of Valve at Facebook's 2015 F8 conference. "Why Virtual Reality Will Matter To You." It's very recent, and goes in some similar directions, but this guy is an actual wizard, working on the cutting edge of this incredible stuff. And even he sounds staggered by how much promise this tech holds. Check it out. (Abrash comes on at 42:17.)