Oculus Rift Intel Experience at Best Buy - Virtual Middle Finger
I see a Best Buy in my future.

Update 5.3.2016: Problem solved. I cancelled my pre-order. That a company would bump loyal customers is definitely odd, but especially odd and possibly disturbing is that VR, a promising, futuristic digital technology, would require us to trek to a brick-and-mortar called Best Buy.

Interesting news today out of the world of VR.

Oculus, one of the two big VR headset makers garnering headlines (the other, HTC Vive), has oddly decided to ship headsets to retailers ahead of fulfilling pre-orders. Many of those orders were placed earlier this year, months in advance of today’s announcement. Generally, companies tend to reward that kind of loyalty — EV-maker Tesla and camera manufacturer RED come to mind.

Yet, Oculus has decided to do the opposite, and re-direct finished Rift headsets coming off the line to its retail partners. I get that it wants to stoke awareness, and spark continued interest in VR and headsets (demos at local Best Buys as part of “The Intel Experience” campaign should draw weekend crowds and excitement), but the move could cause some backlash, and possibly prompt some to cancel orders and switch to the HTC Vive.

I’m one of those who placed an early pre-order for an Oculus Rift. So now what to do?

I can run to a Best Buy here in Silicon Valley and hope to find one in stock.

Or I can wait just a few more days, when on May 6, the Rift hits the Microsoft store and Amazon.

In either scenario, if I do buy a Rift, Oculus (a division of Facebook) says I can go ahead and cancel my pre-order. Thanks for that!

Another option: forget the whole thing.

I’m skeptical — very skeptical — about the short-term market viability of VR. Yes, in ten or twenty years, I expect virtual and augmented reality to be commonplace, and to reshape not only social patterns, but to pave the way for massive breakthroughs in many industries (healthcare, science, biotechnology, etc.).

For now, though, I see VR as synonymous with video gaming. Not a small industry, to be sure, but far from the mainstream appeal many are forecasting. Remember Google+? Path? Google Glass? 3D home theater? There’s a lengthy list of technologies that generate buzz, only to die on the vine.

Blazing a new trail doesn’t come easy of course.

Before iPad, for instance, there was Newton.

Recall that the precursor to the modern day tablet was something by Apple called the Newton Messagepad. I remember playing with one when I was working at Bell Northern Labs up in Ottawa. Wow, handwriting recognition! Like VR, the Newton could draw a crowd and lots of buzz. But John Scully’s pet project would flop. Years later, Apple would perfect the concept, and release the iPad, a product clearly owing to its kludgy predecessor.

VR promises an amazing rollercoaster ride. Yes, I’m sure it generates many smiles. Still, not everything in life requires that rollercoaster inspired experience. I’m hard pressed to see how VR, with its spec-heavy computing requirements, and need for space (a 10×10 foot room at minimum), and high price tag, will ignite hyper-growth, in the short-term, despite the feeding frenzy among the technorati.

Either that or I’m just annoyed that Oculus gave us early pre-order loyalists the virtual finger.

Now where’s my Google Cardboard… ? Maybe I will have another go at that rollercoaster after all.