The Age of Virtual Reality is dawning. First there was the Oculus Rift—the forerunner, the one and only. But now, faster than you can say Jack Robinson, the competitors have arrived: the Microsoft Hololens, the Sony Project Morpheus, the recondite Magic Leap, and most recently, the HTC Vive.
These names provide an interesting case study because they all exist in a relative vacuum. The technology is so new and so hyped that all of these names are being bandied about without a single product actually existing on the marketplace, and the battle for consumers is being fought with marketing content and, of course, with the names. Here’s what I think.
Oculus Rift: I’ve written about this before, and to summarize, Oculus Rift is an AMAZING NAME. “Oculus” is an architectural terms meaning a small, eye-like opening. This fits with the device, but if you aren’t familiar with the word, it still can easily be linked to sight. And what a perfect, gripping tonality! “Rift” gives us the sense of a break from everything that has come before, both as in a break from our notions of reality, and a break from previous gaming and entertainment technology. Rift even suggests a hint of danger; I couldn’t be more exited. Grade: A+
Sony Project Morpheus: Though it may seem like a reference to The Matrix, Morpheus is much older than the late nineties. Morpheus, in mythology, is the son of Somnus (the God of Sleep) and is associated with dreams and visions. “Project” gives it a top-secret, government agency vibe, and also implies ongoing change and improvement. With Project Morpheus, one understands that the technology will be continually refined, developers will be continually developing, and games will be evolving. Grade: A+
Microsoft Hololens: Hololens…this one underperforms. Yes, Holo is short for a hologram, and as a prefix it means complete or whole. The product itself looks beyond exciting…but evoking holograms–an old-feeling and dated technology–sells it short. “Lens” is important because this device allows you to move, see, and interact with the real world simultaneously—it’s not an impervious screen but a transparent lens. Surely, Hololens is meant to convey how different this device is from Google Glass and Oculus Rift…but overall, the name is visually awkward and cumbersome to pronounce. Naming a virtual reality headset might be the coolest assignment ever, and this name falls flat. Of course, Microsoft is thinking about this device as something for much more than gaming, and wants to make it feel safe and comfortable for everyone (aka non-gamers), but that doesn’t mean the name can’t be inspiring. Grade: B-
HTC Vive: HTC makes everything from phones to tablets to cameras—and the Vive honestly sounds like it could work as the name for any of those products. Vive is a conservative name, and though it technically might check all the right boxes—short, more or less memorable, visually interesting, suggestive—it doesn’t evoke innovation and pales in comparison to the Oculus Rift and Project Morpheus. As with the Hololens, HTC wants the Vive to appeal to everyone—and that is clear, considering the name. But with especially with gaming giant Valve being the primary backer, I would have hoped for a bolder name. Grade: C-
Magic Leap: This device has been hush-hush for a while, but from what we know, it will attempt to blend reality and virtual reality, like the Hololens. But the name is better—and though it is more simplistic than Oculus Rift or Project Morpheus, it’s still energizing and alluring in its own right. Magic is magic, of course, and leap evokes a leap of faith, and a greater advancement in technology. Magic Leap is a solid name. Grade: B
Overall, the names that work best foster the wonder that has kept consumers in a frenzied state of anticipation preceding general use of the product. Oculus Rift, Project Morpheus, and to a lesser degree Magic Leap all capitalize on the mystique of the technology. Even though the Microsoft Hololens and HTC Vive are names that need to consider the existing naming protocols for those companies and are not suited for an edgy name like Oculus Rift or Project Morpheus, they still need an inspiring name worthy of the incredible advancement that is Virtual Reality. But anyways, none of this will matter as we live out the rest of our days in an alternate reality. See you on the other side!