4Q4+: Four (plus) questions for … Dan O’Brien, HTC


When Dan O’Brien speaks about virtual reality, he comes at it from an angle of experience.

HTC VIVE’s general manager for the Americas was the executive director of emerging products when the global company launched the VIVE business unit in 2015.

At the time, it was a three-person team.

Ever since, he has been one of the wizards behind the curtain as HTC has continued to develop its product, competing in one of the more notable industries in technology today.

“So much of what we wanted to get into is helping other companies with the next computing platform,” he told Orlando Tech News. “It’s the next generation of the Industrial Revolution.”

O’Brien spoke with Orlando Tech News on the general state of the industry, where it’s heading and how specific industries like education have benefited from virtual reality’s emergence and growth.

(Questions and answers edited for clarity)

Obviously, there are so many use cases for virtual reality in several industries. Can you talk about the education side? What are your thoughts there?

Education is kind of a use case that goes across verticals, right? Healthcare. You know, healthcare, if you look at it, like, with Yale, they train doctors for laparoscopic surgery. We found that doctors that trained for surgical procedures, or nurses that trained to be in surgical procedures, made nine times fewer errors if they were virtually trained ahead of time. We also found therapeutics in healthcare. So you could do distraction therapy. You could do stroke rehabilitation therapy with companies like Penumbra.

What about defense? How does VR and HTC play into that?

Anything that we can improve on response time, on procedure, on anything that’s procedural training, which the military is very good at procedural training and competitive training. Now you can train and you can get your 400 percent increase in training efficiency in terms of time. And then retention of material, 75% retention.

HTC recently introduced VIVE Ultimate Tracker, which can be placed in a variety of locations. They are shown above around the ankles.

You were in on the early days of the smartphone, helping develop so many early Android devices. What was that era like?

I was trying to convince people they were going to use calendars and cameras. A touchscreen phone, everything was going to be on their phone. They were like, no way. Now we are in this immersive technology (age), whether it’s extended reality or augmented reality or VR.

And? What’s next?

What’s going to be next is we’re going to connect to a 5G or 6G network. It’s going to be much lighter, easier wearable content and a lot of the things that are in these headsets we wear today are going to be in the cloud infrastructure. Now you have kids who are non-science majors doing immersive classes, testing higher than science majors in lecture classes, right? Kinesthetic learning.

What’s old is new.

This is how we learned before we went into a classroom. Learning with our hands, eyes, ears our physical touch, right? It’s a much more immersive learning environment. So whether they are military, medical or undergrad, it’s a really effective tool for a learning environment. Ninety-nine percent of us are kinesthetic learners. We’re not all lecture learners. So, a lot of kids drop off from a learning perspective. They’re great learners. But they don’t have the confidence to kind of continue forward. So, you know, immersive learning really jumps the game.

Talk about mass adoption. In a tech bubble, you see increases in adoption as more options emerge but what about mass appeal?

We’re nowhere near where we need to be for mass adoption (and for) wildly gross numbers of mass usage and on-screen) time. Your congruent users, like you have competitors out there that are subsidizing the hardware, but, in all honesty, users are going, okay, great. This is cheaper, but the users don’t realize they’re the products (and) they’re just being studied, right?

The real challenge is mass usage.

You look at that hardware and the congruent users is pitiful. You know, nobody’s using it all the time. They’re buying into it and playing with it. You’re using it once in a while. They’re not using it like they’re using a smartphone or an iPad, you know.

What are some other challenges?

There are hurdles, you know, around the content, how much time you want to (be on it). The content isn’t that sticky, you know? So, think about why is TikTok so popular? That content is refreshing. I mean, daily, maybe even hourly, there are thousands and thousands of content creators and they’re creating.

So, there’s a lesson in TikTok?

Kids are super excited about, you know, all these different streamers, right? And so, I do look at it and go, yeah, the sticky content on the consumer side is not there, but the immersive level of the content is in, say, the (location-based entertainment) market.

Talk about how CEO Cher Wang’s plays into this whole effort.

She wanted to go into the healthcare business. She wanted to go into all of these other areas. It wasn’t just gaming and entertainment. Gaming and entertainment have driven the industry to where it is today so I’m super thankful for all the partners and everyone who has done the hard work and innovated to bring new standards forward. But so much of what we wanted to get into is helping other companies with the next computing platform. It’s the next generation of the Industrial Revolution.

That’s a strong statement.

That is what this tech is going to enable. So much of what is exciting for us and why it’s cool is we get to be at the beginning of a new paradigm shift in how we’re going to interact with digital content. We get to do it in a way and scale that has never been done in the history of the world before.