What Student Housing Taught Us about VR User Experience
At the end of June, we launched a "2D catalog" view of our student housing Cardboard Apps on Android and iPhone! It's a complete overhaul of how a leasing agent would show VR tours of their properties to students, making search and navigation of the App much more intuitive and quick.
Incorporating VR into the Leasing Process
When we first launched the Cardboard versions of the leasing Apps, the App starts with the "VR-view" right away - the "split screen" look that indicates it is time to slot the phone into a Cardboard viewer. A "Dashboard" of properties, sometimes classified under a geographical location, appears.
Many of our customers thought that going through this layer of navigation, especially when the leasing agent needs to line up a few unit tours, to be immersive but time-consuming. Sometimes, if the student prefers to navigate him/herself, but is unfamiliar with VR, it could become frustrating.
Breaking down the student housing process that precedes the signing of a lease, we found that it consists of three parts: search (for the units that fit the students' criteria), selection (of the units to view), and navigation (between selected units). Our goal was to make the search, selection, and navigation process more pleasant and to speed it up.
We considered designing an interface where it is possible to input a series of search criteria. However, there is currently no keyboard equivalent in virtual reality, so it is cumbersome to "type" any text. We also needed an easy way to "save" the unit tours that are of interest and flip between them. But as mentioned previously, going through layers of the Dashboard to switch between one tour to another could be tedious. We concluded that it would be much easier if the process were in 2D, familiar to everyone who uses a smartphone, instead of VR, and only switch to VR for the tours.
Instead of going through the VR Dashboard to arrive at a tour, the App will load into a 2D list of properties (or geographical locations if applicable). From there, an agent can select the tour they want to view.
Sometimes a student is interested in viewing multiple units that fit his/her criteria. Once the agent arrives at one unit, they can tap the star on the left-hand side to "save" it to the "Picks" section, then continue to the next unit of interest.
To start the tour, click on one of the units and the App will load into the VR view. From there, navigate as usual through hotspots. With the addition of "Picks," however, there are now "Next" and "Previous" buttons near the bottom that will help you move from one Pick to the next.
To get back to the list of Picks, simply take the phone out of the Cardboard viewer, and rotate it back to portrait mode.
As much as we wanted to stay completely immersive, it was much more important to ensure that VR complements the student housing leasing process. Introducing a 2D view in a VR App was the pragmatic choice for delivering a smooth and effortless experience.
Our team is hard at work on future updates to the app as well. Samsung has released a new version of the Gear VR that has a controller, so we are looking into making the Gear VR versions of our App compatible with it. No more fishing around the touchpad on the side!
We're also very excited about introducing Augmented Reality and physically-based rendering ("PBR") to pre-built projects in the near future. Check out the prototype:
Realistic-looking 3D models that pop up is coming to a phone near you!