AirPods are Normal

On this day, AirPods stopped standing out to me as ugly white ear appendages.

Today, I saw a man walking with a suit, briefcase, and wired headphones, and the wires hanging from his ears struck me as odd. 

Shortly after, I boarded a train in Sydney, where AirPod density was noticeably high. 

I love my AirPods. I’ve been using Apple products since 1993, and these are up there with the original iPod and the colourful iMac range.

Virtual Reality Accessibility

There's a lot of information out there about designing the web for accessibility. Over the last 10 years, the world has learned a lot about how to accommodate a vast diversity of different needs and abilities.

So, when it comes to designing virtual experiences, we don't need to start from scratch. Here's a few things you should consider from a VR Accessibility point of view.

Seated-first design

Like responsive web design, which accounts for the screen size of the user, VR experiences should be responsive to height and posture. Consider audiences who use wheelchairs, are unable to stand for long, or are short (including children).

  • Don't place buttons or interactive elements in hard to reach positions
  • Ensure that NPC eye-gaze includes height, not just direction
  • Include locomotion options which can be done from a seated position

Audio cues

VR experiences shouldn't rely solely on audio cues to grab a user's attention, or require audio in order to complete a task. Not only does this allow your experience to be accessible by hearing impaired people, it also let's users play on mute if they want to.

  • Provide a subtitles option for speech
  • Provide visual indicators where positional audio is used
  • Provide visual cues for success or failure events (e.g. failure to start an engine should be visible as well as audible)

Readability

Current hardware resolutions make it difficult enough to discern text as it is. But as the resolution of VR headsets increases, don't be tempted to reduce font sizes to match resolution. Consider users with a vision impairment that may not be able to make out small text.

  • Recommended font size is 3.45°, or a height of 6.04cm from the distance of one meter
  • The text should be faced perpendicularly to the observer, and rotate around the observer's view
  • Use a line length of 20—40 symbols per line. With bigger fonts, lines should be shorter.

More information on fonts in VR can be found in Volodymyr Kurbatov's article.

Colour

Color blindness or color vision deficiency (CVD) affects around 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women worldwide. This means that for every 100 users that visit your website or app, up to 8 people could actually experience the content much differently that you’d expect.

http://blog.usabilla.com/how-to-design-for-color-blindness/

Virtual worlds tend to be visually rich, which often means a much broader range of colour than one would typically see on a website, or even in the real world. With this in mind, strive to ensure that colour isn't used a the only way of displaying contrast.

  • Choose a variety of textures to provide better contrast between visual elements
  • Use both colours and symbols in interface design
  • Avoid "bad" colour combos (e.g. Green + Red, or Blue + Purple) for primary elements

VR is still in it's infancy – we're still learning about what works and what doesn't. As the industry grows, it's important to continue prioritising accessibility, so that our virtual stories, games, environments, and tools can be explored by everyone.

The Next Tech Revolution

When the internet was popularised, the world started asking questions about topics like freedom of access to information, the nature of "digital goods" / "digital ownership", and globalisation.

Now that we're on the cusp of the next technology revolution, I'm excited about more compelling questions entering the zeitgeist.

Virtual Reality is currently being pushed forward by a gaming market (like computing once was). But it won't be long (2019, 2020) before consumer VR starts making its way into every home. All we need is:

  • Standalone headsets (no computer required, coming 2018—2019)
  • Faster wireless communication (5G, coming 2020—2021)
  • Cloud rendering (2018—2019)

Once VR has become popularised, the global conversation will shift to focus on some very interesting questions. What is the nature of reality? Do quantum mechanics prove that we're already living in a simulation? Is consciousness emergent from biology, or something deeper? Does "self" even exist?

At the same time, I hope we see this technology creating new social dynamics, forming new partnerships and friendships, in ways that flat screen communication has never been capable of. 

I don't think we'll recognise the world 5 years from now.


Postscript: One of my earliest VR experiences was sitting in AltSpace and meeting a Rabbi. We discussed the future Halakha (Jewish law) of VR for hours. Is flying around Google Earth considering "travelling" on the Sabbath? Should my avatar wear a kippah? Is my avatar Jewish? Is it permitted to eat virtual pork? These are questions that will have real authoritative answers in the near future.