Mobile-powered VR is dead. What is next?

It’s no surprise when Facebook’s Oculus announced Oculus Go will be discontinued last week. Before this, Samsung also stopped developments for its Samsung Gear VR (also powered by Oculus) last year, later followed by Google by abandoning the Daydream platform. With the death of Oculus Go, does that mean the dream of VR is finally shattered, and VR is actually nothing but just a gimmick as many suggested?

Actually, no, or not really. I myself, even am a VR enthusiast who loves the idea, was a bit sceptical when the whole VR thing was hyped few years ago. I know that, by creating the “VR hype”, it would helps the whole VR industry boosted but also could doom the industry when people actually realise it’s just a “hype” (which it actually is). But throughout the development of VR, I can see it becomes more mature and slowly gained the right momentum it needed to become the de facto media type by its own.

All of this happened thanks to Google by introducing the cheap, cardboard made Google Cardboard. Google Cardboard was never a product, but more like an idea or blueprint. Using a Google Cardboard or many of its clones (from plasticky to premium quality ones), users could experience the idea of VR by spending just a few dimes. That’s the hardest part of VR: getting people to know it. As I said before, VR is a new type of media, alongside with audio, video etc. As a result, if people will not understand VR until they try it. It could never be explained in words, like comparing with video or something else.

But Google Cardboard has its problem. Pairing the cardboard with a mediocre mobile phone resulted in a terrible VR experience. Low framerate, bad quality apps and even badly designed VR glasses could lead to terrible motion sickness, eye sores and other problems. The mobile VR industry later evolved to more “dedicated” mobile experience, with Google Daydream and Samsung Gear VR. It’s actually the same idea, you put the phone into the VR glass to use it as a VR display device. They also added a more robust VR controller that you can actually interact (pretty much like a Wii controller). The important point is, the compatible mobile phones is now carefully selected to give the best VR experience possible.

At the same time, gaming VR headsets like Oculus Rift and HTC Vive still exists, although only approach a very small portion of the gamers because of its terrific requirements. Firstly, you need a powerful gaming rig. Secondly, you have to pay the same amount of money of that gaming rig to buy the VR display and controllers. Probably not finally, you’ll need to have a large room (or buy a house with one) and also you’ll need to setup a lot of wires and cables and sensors inside the room to play the game. All of those make gaming VR a very hard approach for many people, including me.

But the Oculus Quest, released in the middle of 2019, seems to be the correct answer to the problem. In paper, it’s still the same “stand-alone” mobile VR like many of its predecessors like the Lenovo Mirage (Daydream platform) or Oculus Go (Oculus platform), or like you throw a mobile phone powered by a Snapdragon 835 processor (like the Note 8, Pixel 2 or LG V30) into a Daydream / Gear VR headset. But it has married the idea of a gaming VR system by incorporating a 6-degree of freedom, which helps you move around the environment, and a pair of gaming VR grade controllers. It can also be used as a gaming VR system just by connecting it to your gaming rig using a normal USB-type C cable. No other cables, wires or sensors needed.

As we could see, a mobile powered approach like Samsung Gear VR or Google Daydream is important for the intial boost of VR; but in the long term, it could actually do more harm than good. Pushing it too much and people may just abandon the industry due to an incomplete experience. An easily-accessible gaming VR system should be the industry’s destination, like when you can play triple-A games in your VR headset & controllers without the need of any cables, and the Oculus Quest is certainly going in the right way.

Of course if you still want to experience VR for a little amount of money, Google Cardboard is still always an option. Or you can find on eBay for a cheaply used Daydream or Gear VR, like me. Actually I bought a new unopened Daydream headset for just $20, one fifth of its original price.

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