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Expensive devices, lack of content key challenges for India's booming VR market

A range of industries in India are rapidly adopting virtual reality and augmented reality. However, the high cost of quality devices and lack of decent content remain key challenges.

The immersive technology is increasingly used in media and entertainment, automotive, e-commerce, retail, tourism, healthcare and education, even though growth in India is far behind the likes of the U.S., China and Japan, the three global VR market leaders.

Overall, the virtual reality and augmented reality markets in India are projected to register 55.3% in compound annual growth rate during 2016 to 2021, surpassing $950 million by 2021, according to data from TechSci Research. By contrast, China's VR market is expected to hit $11.9 billion, according to iResearch Consulting Group. The global VR market is expected to grow at a 5-year CAGR of 57.7%, according to a report by International Data Corp.

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The automotive sector is actively experimenting with the technology, according to Karan Chechi, a research director at market research firm TechSci Research.

"Luxury cars, as well as several mid-level C-segment cars, have started adopting HUDs, where you can easily see your navigation system and data like fuel level on your windscreen," Chechi said in an interview.

The Indian defense industry has also discovered VR and AR. In fact, the sector was the largest end-user of VR and AR devices and services in 2015.

The Indian army has employed Hyderabad-based startup Imaginate's augmented reality platform ShootAR for training. The tech firm also offers LiveVR that helps doctors navigate complicated surgeries.

"While e-commerce and entertainment will boom, the core revenue will be generated from the defense and automotive sectors," Chechi noted.

E-commerce

India's e-commerce sector is making a rapid move toward immersive tech.

Online eyewear retailer Lenskart and online jewelry marketplace Caratlane use augmented reality to help push customers from the consideration stage to buy stage by letting them virtually try out their products. Imaginate's virtual dressing room Dressly is another platform that allows users virtually try on various clothes before ordering them online.

One VR use case is in understanding customer experience and preferences. Through VR, companies can track customers' eyeball movements to determine how the various sections of their website perform and which sections on the site are looked at the most.

"The immersive tech helps companies record user responses straight away, instead of interviewing customers or asking for feedback," Chechi explained.

Chinese investments in the e-commerce and tech sectors also have a positive impact on the Indian VR industry, Chechi argues. However, "the immediate focus for e-commerce platforms right now is to increase their offline presence," he warned, adding that, as a result, it may take a couple of years before the AR/VR adoption in e-commerce truly picks up.

Real estate

In real estate, developers, as well as online property buying and selling platforms, are using VR to enhance the customer experience. Developers use VR headsets to give customers a virtual tour of how a project would look like once completed.

Real estate startups like Makaan, Housing.com and SmartVizX are using the technology to bridge the gap in how developers and sellers present their projects to prospective buyers, how buyers perceive it and what is delivered at the end.

"Imagine that you are in the U.S. and you want to look for a property in India, it would take a lot of money, effort and time to decide which property you want to buy. With VR, you can use a phone or a premium headset and go into this virtual world and look at the house in the right scale," Canalys analyst Jason Low said in an interview.

Challenges remain, however. One of the biggest pain points globally for VR has been the lack of quality content. India is no different, but a few Indian startups, such as Meraki and Memesys Culture Lab, are looking to plug the deficit through high-quality virtual, augmented or mixed reality content.

"The market has not yet matured to the point that vendors would go in and set up operations in India. They, ultimately, want a market that is large enough," Low noted.

In India, smartphone-centric headsets, which employ smartphones as a display, like Samsung Electronics Co Ltd.'s Gear VR and Google Inc.'s Cardboard are driving up the augmented and virtual reality adoption in the country.

One reason cited by both Low and Chechi is that such headsets are more affordable than the conventional high-end VR headsets with built-in display, like Facebook Inc.’s Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and Sony Corp.'s PlayStation VR. Another reason, they said, is that smartphone-centric headsets are portable, while high-end VR headsets are fixed to a computer.

"Smartphone-centric devices work well for people who want to try VR for the first time," Low said.

Despite the price and mobility advantage, smartphone-centric VR headsets do not fare well in terms of locking in a customer in the long term as the user experience is relatively poor compared to fixed display versions. But as the world moves to 5G, Low pointed out that high-end VR headsets are expected to become wireless.

Also, while India has been doing more in the VR space than AR, things are changing.

"VR picked up early in India, but augmented reality is more promising," Chechi said.

The disadvantage VR has over AR is that it takes the user away from the physical world and has less potential use cases. AR, on the other hand, merges with real life surroundings and thus is more inclusive.

"Both technologies are very different. They provide different user experiences, they solve different problems, [and] they provide different values," Low concluded.