Recently, following a class I took on Product Innovation Through Emerging Technologies facilitated through Emeritus and NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering, I decided that I wanted to continue my journey as a UX practitioner by exploring virtual reality (VR) products. My first step? Buy an Oculus Quest 2 headset.
While there are a few good VR headsets out there, I chose this one due to its affordable price, wireless functionality and availability of a link cable that would also open up a large list of Windows PC VR titles.
And while I’ll say that the unboxing and initial pairing experience was easy and very pleasant, I was bombarded by the paradigms of our digital desktop and mobile experiences in my newly acquired virtual environment.
The journey begins…
First, I needed to connect Wi-Fi. As my password is quite complex, this lead to a repeating sequence: lift up headset, unlock my iPhone (with FaceID to make it more challenging), open up my favorite password manager to find my needed password, lower headset, “type” on my virtual keyboard with my wireless controller device, then repeat. It was certainly an exercise (and demonstration) of short-term memory chunking as I could only remember 4 or 5 characters, numbers and letters at a time. With my network (finally) connected, came the next challenge in this UX obstacle course.
Oculus requires an account to connect to its ecosystem, which certainly makes sense as it will make purchases easier in the future. To continue, I needed to connect to my new Oculus account…which actually means connecting to my Facebook account (don’t get me started on that one..). So, let’s just take that first process I mentioned and repeat it all over again with my complex Facebook password, along with successive taps to continue, accept, agree, etc.
Next, with two passwords down and after installing the first game I was interested in, Star Trek Bridge Crew (I’m a sci-fi fan), my third and final test on my journey to become an Oculus Master awaited me. I needed a Ubisoft account to play it.
So what’s a an already frustrated person to do? Create an account, of course. After click, click, clicking my way through the form, guess what? Apparently, I had a login already. Thanks form validation for waiting until the submission to check! (A note for any Ubisoft web developer who may read this: please check the username after it’s entered upon leaving focus of the field. Thanks!)
And then — once again — off came the headset to FaceID-unlock my phone, open my password manager (FaceID again for that too), search for account info and, voila! At some point in the past, years ago, I created an Ubisoft account. Oops, not a secure password, so let’s fix that first…
After several minutes on my computer, it’s back to the Quest 2 headset! Huzzah! Click, click, click, click…and the username and password are entered. Finally, Captain Larry Pelty is ready to take the bridge!
The problem in a nutshell
Even though the initial experience was extremely frustrating, now it’s just a matter of putting on my headset and running whatever application or game I want. Easy. But for how long?
What about the next time a game or app needs an account? What if I change my Wi-Fi or Facebook account passwords? Clearly, at some point, I’ll have to run through this obstacle course again.
But to really put this challenge into perspective — every VR headset user, regardless of make and model, will, at some point, face a similar problem that I did.
Putting on my UX practitioner hat, I defined my problem statement as such:
Users who need to create new, or access existing, accounts for applications face difficulties in virtual reality using controllers or hand tracking with limited functionality. Without access to traditional input devices, such as keyboards and mice, or assisting tools, like desktop or mobile password managers, users must find workarounds that typically involve leaving the VR space or removing some or all of the associated equipment. Providing ways of managing or accessing accounts, while maintaining a high level of security and staying within the boundaries of the VR space and its related equipment, will provide for a more comfortable and seamless experience.
Thinking about it further, as I love “how might we…” questions, I simplified the problem statement into a single question:
How might we allow users to easily and efficiently log in to accounts while being in virtual reality?
As this question likely has a variety of potential solutions (or at least directions to move in) based in hardware, software, or both, I further broke down the problem statement into smaller, interrelated chunks by thinking about the problem in regards to familiar desktop or mobile methods.
In single or multi-screen environments, most users have access to ways to input and manage complex passwords, either through password managers like 1Password or LastPass, or native features of web browsers like Edge, Chrome, and Safari. Mice and keyboards (including related accessibility features) and even voice can also facilitate relatively quick entry.
Even when password manager plugins don’t function properly, a user can still resort to copy and paste (native to every operating system, mobile or desktop, at this point) to carry over the appropriate login information from those tools.
And so further reflection brought up these How Might We questions:
As for my first question regarding input devices, fortunately, Oculus is making some headway there with support of the Logitech K830 keyboard. However, it still requires support by the various applications — and as of writing this article, that’s pretty much zero. Well…you can use it with the built-in Oculus browser, which is somewhat helpful. Beyond that, the virtual keyboards present within most applications generally follow some variation of tapping virtually with your controller or, if your device supports it (like the Quest 2), hand tracking.
But, needless to say, bringing a physical device into my VR environment is pretty cool and a great sign of what’s to come.
Another VR application, Immersed, has also implemented a novel approach — a calibration process that brings your keyboard into VR (sort of). While it’s easy to lose calibration, especially between VR sessions, it does provide an option for users without the Quest 2/Logitech keyboard combo.
As for the second question regarding password managers…well that’s up to those developers — and that could be an interesting case study in itself. There are no doubt many challenges in bringing text heavy apps into usable forms in VR, and of course, there is authenticating the user which really leads us back to the same problem. So, moving on…nothing to see here.
What about copy and paste, my next How might we question? Surely that’s already available now, right? That’s a big bucket of nope on that one. But it’s definitely something I plan to think about further….
Lastly, alternative authentication methods are likely going to touch hardware as well. To eliminate the biggest issue in VR, the headset should not come off. Unless of course, you just finished an exhausting sweat-inducing battle with Klingons…
But even with some sort of biometrics or other hardware-based solution, there will still need to be a way to connect to whatever existing password storage a user might have.
So what can be done right now?
Well, not much unfortunately, especially on self-contained systems like the Oculus Quest 2. However, the link cable, or new Airlink, allows the user to load the PC VR experience, which may provide some workarounds — but only on PC VR games. The Virtual Desktop app, which supports a variety of VR headsets, including the Quest 2, provides similar wireless link functionality.
Virtual reality is here — and has been for years — and with relatively low-cost headsets like the Oculus Quest 2 already available, we may lose many users to that inevitable, and probably terrible, first experience.
And while I have yet to try this using one of the above approaches, loading the PC desktop and subsequently opening whatever password manager you are using, along with any VR app or game in a window view (on that PC of course)— may — allow a way of seeing the password while you click or tap your way through it. However, with the nature of some VR games or apps, this is likely to not work consistently, if at all.
Ultimately, we as UX practitioners need to think about, and start addressing, these experiences for VR to become easier and more accessible to its users. Virtual reality is here — and has been for years — and with relatively low-cost headsets like the Oculus Quest 2 already available, we may lose many users to that inevitable, and probably terrible, first experience.
Have any feedback or just want to say hello? Reach out to me on LinkedIn.