An HTC Vive mixed reality headset in action.

An HTC Vive virtual reality headset in action. Source: Shutterstock

HTC targets XR at ‘new normal’ remote working businesses

  • As businesses shift to remote working – some for the long-haul – limitations of collaboration tools are emerging
  • HTC VIVE is launching an XR platform, enabling teams to collaborate and socialize in a more immersive way
  • Interest in XR solutions has gathered pace as a way to enhance online interactions since the pandemic 

The white-collar world of work has, by and large, adapted quickly to the demands of remote working – our cloud-based tools and solutions, which mean we can set up shop today wherever there’s a strong wifi connection, can be thanked for that. But there is a drawback: the lack of human interaction. 

According to Buffer and AngelList’s 2020 State of Work report, collaboration and communications (20%) and loneliness (20%) were regarded as the biggest work-from-home struggles. Human interaction is necessary for our productivity, people skills, morale and sense of camaraderie, and while video conferencing certainly serves us better than an email, Slack message or even a phone call, it’s no substitute.  

But with remote working not going anywhere fast, and many businesses considering adopting it partially or wholesale, eyeing this conundrum as a gap in the ‘new normal’ enterprise technology market is HTC VIVE, whose new project in the offing aims to “remove the physical distance” that separates us using XR (mixed reality) technology. 

The Chinese tech firm – which has long been one of the top makers of VR hardware – is launching VIVE XR Suite, a cloud-based XR subscription package focused on enhancing remote working with apps devoted to remote collaboration, productivity, events, social and culture. “The world has irreversibly changed in the last five months taking us all on an accelerated path towards a digital-first future,” said Alvin Wang Graylin, China president of HTC. 

“This video-centric ‘New Normal’ we are living will rapidly transition to the XR first ‘Next Normal’ that awaits us.” 

While the focus is on immersive experiences by using XR technologies, HTC says the platform will also work on PCs and smartphones. The core idea is to get teams working and socializing together in a virtual environment, more so than the function-first, two-dimensional collaboration tools – of which there are many and counting – available today. 

The VIVE XR Suite comprises five applications that aim to bring VR and AR experiences to events and meetings. VirBELA and Engage are built for business meetings in a customized virtual office and large-scale online conferences, where engaging with colleagues in the form of avatars is designed to give participants the feeling of ‘face-to-face’ interactions. Sync and VRChat, meanwhile, are focused on social interactions, with users able to create and meet in their own virtual worlds, while MOR (Museum of Other Realities) is a place to share and interact with visual art and other projects. 

XR for remote working

Interest in XR as a solution to remote working collaboration has gathered pace in the last few months. With entire workforces shifting work styles overnight, relying on tools like Zoom for meetings, limitations of conventional videoconferencing are being highlighted.

“The video calling stuff breaks down beyond a few people, because you have this big grid of tiny faces,” said the Mozilla and Georgia Institute of Technology researcher and VR specialist Blair MacIntyre. “The full range of social cues, from posture to eye gaze to facial expressions, things like head nodding and hand gesturing — they all convey crucial information.”

XR can be much more effective at capturing these smaller movements and body language, and the possibilities are enhanced as hardware gets better at capturing gesture and facial expression information, as well as in tracking eye movements. These systems can also generate a sense of shared space, while watching virtual avatars of oneself interact with others in a shared environment might elicit psychological cues of teamwork and cooperation.

Of course, XR headsets are still generally bulky – they’re not something you’d want to wear extensively – and costs may prohibit many companies from considering the technology, though with less overheads as a result of moving operations remote full-time, some may have the spare cash to offer these kinds of collaboration tools as workplace perks. And, working on smartphones and desktops as well, platforms such as HTC VIVE’s could make these types of experiences possible for many. 

In March this year, HTC Vive’s fifth annual Ecosystem Conference (VEC) was conducted within ENGAGE, a collaborative VR application that works with Vive, Oculus, Valve, and Windows Mixed Reality VR headsets, instead of Shenzhen, China, where it’s usually held.