Innovation gaps between the real world and the virtual world in the time of quarantine

It’s been 6 months since the majority of the world came to a halt, shuttering businesses, and forcing many to move from the boardroom to the game room. But the tech world never slowed down. So why haven’t we seen any clear advancements to improve our “virtual” quality of life?

Depending on the region, you can be at the end of wave 1, somewhere in wave 2, or even in wave 3 already. But who’s counting?! We all realize COVID19 will be here far longer than we hoped to see. The impact on our social life, the economy, and our society forced many organizations in a tight corner. 

But some changes that were widely anticipated in the media didn’t happen. Let’s zoom in on a couple of examples.

The VR/AR office

The lack of real use cases, the overpriced hardware or misaligned expectations can all be named as reasons why AR/VR still hasn’t found any traction in our professional lives. 

The only innovations that are accelerating close to this field are new creative blended video experiences. Video conferencing tools are evolving. Look how Miro is integrating video in dynamic interactive boards, or how offers mixed video feeds that are normally limited to advanced professional tools. 

But this doesn’t mean the AR/VR hype train can be stopped. There is always another thing on the horizon that will suddenly kick off everything. Apple’s heavily anticipated AR goggles are almost here!

In short: No, don’t expect any significant impact in the 5 years ahead. And let’s assume that by that time nobody talks about COVID anymore either.

Virtual Festivals

Large social events are mostly banned in every country. So many organizations rushed to offer digital alternatives. We’ve seen well-executed festivals like Tomorrowland or in-game shows by artists. Some switched to very basic youtube broadcasts. But overall, the level of innovation we’ve seen here is rather limited. 

But this is not a critique. The problem to solve is really hard. You can transfer content rather easily. (an audio track, some video,…) but you can’t replicate the social immersive experience on your smartphone or laptop. 

On top of that, a digital concert remains a luxury. People can live without this for a long time. But people need food, medical care and many other necessities. So the (digital) innovations and experiments are far more common in those areas.

Homeschooling services

Many regions closed schools for a limited amount of time but luckily most experts in different countries realized that closing schools for younger kids is less critical to fight the pandemic. So for kids and youngsters below 18 years old, it’s expected that schools will continue to operate close to normal, assuming extra security precautions are followed. But as a result, there is no big market to develop new homeschooling solutions. 

For colleges and universities, the challenge is different. Many are (for now) relying on remote schooling via zoom or other existing digital platforms. Overall, it’s surprising to me we haven’t seen radical new experiments to rethink what remote courses could look like. This target group, in combination with training programs for professionals, remains a huge market. This need will be here to stay, so for this domain, I’m still hopeful to see more innovations rising up in the months ahead.

Airline experiences

In the early days of the pandemic, we spotted some wild predictions about how airline travel would be redesigned. But it only took a couple of weeks for most airlines to return back to a “normal” service model. Some dropped already free middle seats, no more disinfecting between each flight,..etc. In order to be profitable, planes need to be packed as full as possible. So airlines are switching their strategy to pay for your funeral if needed or just a lot of communication that planes are the safest spot to stay in your whole travel journey.

While private travel might rebound to pre-COVID19 levels at some point, we do anticipate that business travel will take a really long time to get back to pre-pandemic levels. Most businesses need to cut costs and “travel budgets” often are cut first. In the meantime, literally all industries have adopted a new etiquette and expectations towards remote (from home) interactions. So not all business meetings will switch back to the good old times of 2 days of traveling for a 2h meeting. 

New online social experiences

One of the most striking gaps in all innovations is the lack of creative new social experiences. Billions of people have been locked at home at some point, and even after the lockdowns, many have to follow strict guidelines regarding with whom they can meet in-person. So the need to interact with others in a social, informal context must be huge. But the innovation that is able to successfully tap into this need doesn’t seem to get traction. 

People tend to stick to existing social media platforms, multiplayer games, and good old texting. So until someone reinvents what this could look like, you will have to stick to awkward zoom drinks and weddings where some guests are joining via their smartphones. 

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