Can VR turn the hype into actual reality?


May 14, 2020

May 14, 2020
The Hustle
TOGETHER WITH
Dockers

It’s weird how fast things can change. A year ago today, San Francisco became the first major American city to ban the use of facial recognition technology by the police and public agencies. These days, companies are using it to stop the spread of a pandemic that blew up the economy.

Where will we be a year from now? If we knew that, we wouldn’t be writing this email — we love y’all, but we’d be buying lottery tickets.

Reality Check

Virtual reality can’t catch a break

A VR app like Bigscreen should be all anyone can talk about right now. Forget Netflix Party: With movie theaters closed across much of the country, Bigscreen lets you visit a virtual theater with a friend. You can even grab popcorn from a concession stand. 

So, what’s keeping Bigscreen from going blockbuster? As The New York Times explained, it’s kind of exhausting to watch a movie with a headset on. And eating VR snacks? It just makes you hungry for the real thing.

The industry is facing an Oculus rift: In theory, people stuck in quarantine should be flocking to VR. But even the most immersive experiences can’t match the popularity of Zoom calls.

VR execs are putting their headsets together

They’re brainstorming a full assortment of pandemic-ready innovations: 

  • A Los Angeles startup called Within just released a VR fitness app — and told Protocol that rumors of VR’s struggle for relevance are greatly exaggerated.
  • The startup Spatial has been offering up fully immersive office meetings. But they’re not always practical: What if you want to take notes? 
  • AltSpaceVR functions like a city block, where people can gather and attend concerts. 
  • Tourists sites like Machu Picchu and museums like the Guggenheim are offering VR tours to housebound visitors.

One reason these innovations have slipped under the radar: VR has been around for a while (remember Nintendo’s Virtual Boy, from the mid-’90s?). The early hype means even significant improvements feel retro. Axios calls this cycle the “trough of disappointment.”

There are bright spots…

One data analytics company is expecting standalone VR headset sales to jump 30% before the year is out.

But one of the biggest VR success stories didn’t even require a headset. For its big May Day celebration, the city of Helsinki partnered with VR company Zoan to launch a concert within a 3D version of Helsinki. 

The mayor kicked it off with a speech, and viewers could tune in on their browsers or headsets. 

By the time the Finnish rap group JVG finished its set, ~700k people — or about 1/8 of the whole population of Finland — had tuned in. 

One writer for The Guardian donned a pineapple avatar and used her computer mouse to bop to the beat. “I can’t say it had the buzz of being at a ‘proper’ concert,” she wrote. “But, technically, it was impressive.”

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It’s Still Good

The market for refurbished tech is shining like new

Consider the sad old iPhone sitting in your junk drawer. It must be lonely, right?

Don’t feel too sorry. These days, it might be the most popular gizmo at the party. OneZero reports that refurbished electronics are this season’s must-have devices.

Second-hand is getting a second look

In the early days of the pandemic — that is, the ancient history of 8 weeks ago — there was a huge rush on home-office tech. Then supply chains went haywire — Apple had to push back mass production of this year’s new iPhones.

Governments are reopening, but for many folks, each day feels like a mind-numbing, Bill Murray-less version of Groundhog Day. We’re still workin’ from home, still Zoomin’, still helpin’ the kids learn (when they’re not trying to pull a fast one on their teachers).

We need more devices to keep up — even Google is having trouble finding laptops for all its employees.

The ringleaders of the refurb empire are reaping the benefits:

  • One market research firm’s early data showed sales of used smartphones rising by 28%, as US sales of name-brand smartphones dropped 21% compared to last year.

A supplier that works with school districts said April sales were up 60% over last year. If there had been enough used computers to go around, the company’s CEO believes business would have been even better.

Fight for your right to party fix it yourself

The right-to-repair movement is also having a big moment (and we’re talking more than a busted phone — advocates want to make it easier to fix ventilators, too.)

Kyle Wiens, CEO of the DIY repair site iFixit, said his company has sold thousands of repair kits for the Nintendo Switch — another precious pandemic commodity, because the islands of Animal Crossing are our only escape.

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Sponsored

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  • Insoles with antimicrobial technology, moisture-wicking lining, and odor control, rendering socks obsolete
  • A scientifically-superior exterior that can’t be soaked or stained

They’d also be sharp enough to wow your coworkers, but comfy enough to wear all day (hey, a true genius doesn’t have time to swap shoes). 

Yep, it’s too bad Einstein never invented such smart shoes… so it’s a damn good thing Dockers did. 

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We can’t promise wearing them will make you smarter, but why not try ‘em just in case?

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Charted Territory

One humble software platform is behind all those coronavirus dashboards

They’re a common player in our fits of doomscrolling these days: digital displays that show how the coronavirus crisis is spreading across the globe.

Your anxiety probably wants you to give the people who create those displays a wedgie. But before you cart off a cartographer — there’s actually a cool story behind the scary stats.

Bloomberg found that a single software platform — well-known in professional circles but under the radar of normies like the rest of us — powers thousands of them.

It’s called ArcGIS — and here’s the gist

It was created by a California company called Esri, founded in 1969. 

By Bloomberg’s description, Esri is like the software industry’s version of a beloved pair of sweatpants — it “sits unassumingly in that tier of comfortable, decades-old tech companies built on products that have survived radical technological changes.”

And if the crisis proved anything, people LOVE sweats

In the Before Times, Esri had already cornered more than half the market for Geographic Information System (better known as GIS) software.

A company official says 3.7k+ organizations (including many newcomers) are now using corona dashboards — including Johns Hopkins University, whose popular display sees 3m+ hits per hour.

One challenge of the platform’s sudden popularity: How to make things look good on the small screen. Sixty percent of corona dashboard traffic comes from mobile, because doomscrolling is phone-friendly, even if the displays aren’t.

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The Hustle Says

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Human After All?

Mannequin customers are taking over the business world

No one likes to walk into a restaurant and see empty tables. In the Before Times, you might have glanced warily at your friend: Are you sure about this place? 

But with most states placing firm caps on customers, reopening restaurants have no choice but to operate at reduced capacity. And one Michelin-starred Virginia restaurant has a plan to keep customers from getting cold feet: Stock the empty tables with mannequins.

The plush Inn at Little Washington plans to seat fake diners dressed in high-end 1940s attire — think wedding dresses, pocket squares, and fedoras. Because nothing screams “this is normal” quite like a Michelin-starred version of Madame Tussauds.

Fake fans are in right now

Once upon a time, fake fans were the scourge of internet stan armies like the Beyhive. They claimed superfan status but had never even heard “Get Me Bodied.”

Now, the faux fan movement is spreading across the globe:

  • In Taiwan and Korea, baseball stadiums are filling up seats with cardboard cut-outs of people clutching signs. 
  • In the UK, officials from England’s top soccer league have debated blasting fake stadium noise during matches. 
  • A French karaoke show replaced its live studio audience with elaborate balloon mannequins. (Major props to whichever balloon bender designed them.) 

Some people are deploying mannequins to show neighbors how to keep healthy — one California man set up a group of socially distanced mannequins in his front yard. 

When it comes to following health protocol, he explained, “Even a dummy can do it.”

So please don’t be alarmed if, the next time you show up to work, your officemate turns out to be made of plastic.

P.S. If anyone has information on the businesses supplying restaurants and other venues with these mannequins and cardboard fans, email [email protected].

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Podcast

Why this Harvard Law grad gave up hedge funds for contacts

From Harvard Law, to working at the world’s largest hedge fund, to founding one of the biggest DTC brands on the planet — Jesse Horwitz has had quite the career.

His company, Hubble, has proven to be one of most exciting DTC brands on the market and is currently valued at over $246M.

On this week’s episode of our Exit Strategy podcast, Jesse shares:

  • How a case of beer got his company into Y Combinator.
  • How Jesse helped presidential candidate Andrew Yang fundraise.
  • Why DTC relies on Facebook like P&G relies on TV. 

🎧 Listen to Exit Strategy here: Apple / Spotify / Castro 🎧

Listen here → Snippets

👀 Amazon is calling on Congress to establish a federal price-gouging law.

🏡 This week we told you about new phases of tech-enabled togetherness. Here’s another: Houseparty is launching live events.

🙏 Reverse the curse of too many tabs: The next version of Google Chrome will let you group tabs together.

🍖 Forget sourdough starter. One startup wants to help you grow your own meat.

🇯🇵 It’s the end of an era for the world’s longest-running TV cartoon. Japan’s “Sazae-san” is switching to reruns for the first time since 1975.

Want snippets like these in your browser? Download our Chrome extension here.

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