Virtual reality has been a promise for the past few years, and every year it keeps getting better and better. In 2016, Google released Dreamview VR which is supposed to be a standard for VR on Android. The aim was to push developers to create VR content and for smartphone manufacturers to include VR in their cellphones.
2016 saw Google join Facebook’s Oculus VR, HTC and Valve with the Vive, and Sony’s PlayStation VR. In raw numbers, there were and estimated 2.2 million VR units sold in 2016. This is compared to 1.5 billion smartphones estimated sold during the same period. The potential is there, and it would seem that it is on the path to going mainstream. However, there are several hurdles before it does become common place and truly mainstream.
There is a large investment requirement to get the full VR experience. On top of the VR headset which cost $400 or more, you also need to buy the desktop or the engine. For desktops and laptops, this is a machine whose specs cost more than $1,000. The cheapest machine which can run a VR headset is Sony’s Playstation VR.
The cheapest VR headset is from Google. The Dreamview VR headset costs around $79, but you need to have a Google Pixel XL class smartphone to run VR on Android. Even then, the experience still does not meet expectations. In addition, VR repair costs are still more expensive than mobile phone repair. That is an unfair metric, but it should be considered when discussing mainstream use for hardware.
This is more of a function of technology. When the first Doom game was released, the main problem was that a lot of people experienced nausea playing the game. The same is true for today’s VR content. A lot of people experience nausea playing with the current generation hardware. One of the obvious reasons is that there are not enough pixels and not a fast enough frame rate. When you look at it closely from this viewpoint, it is a hardware problem.
The frame rates have to be faster, and there should be more pixels. With current technology, you can only achieve that after buying a desktop which costs more than $1,000. The above statements about the need to make the price accessible is at odds with the hardware requirements. It will be much longer before hardware is cheap enough to run VR without people getting nauseated.
One other thing about VR is that it was designed for remote play. You can interact with somebody far away, but when playing with someone in the same room, this is not the tool to use. In fact, VR can be an isolating experience for the user. When you have a bad user experience, you would mentally go through the names of stores that fix phones, as you might be tempted to throw one against the wall in frustration.
There is a concept in computer hardware called the “killer app,” it is that one app or program which would be the compelling reason for the use of a particular piece of hardware. So far, there has not been one particular app which provides a compelling reason for VR.
In addition, the development of content is still slow, resulting in a relative trickle of titles. It is thought that even if there was no single killer app, the mere point that there are a lot of titles, especially in the case of games, then there would be a lot more interest resulting in sales. This idea also follows the thought that if the content is there, the hardware would follow, and the cost would decrease due to the increased sales.
Too Much Diversity
One possible reason that there is as yet no killer app, or that the titles are still relatively few is due to the relatively large number of platforms. Each of these platforms have their advantages. The desktop is easily the oldest and the one with the most followers. It is also the most expensive. The cheapest is from Google, but it is still in its infancy and does not have any critical mass of followers.
In truth, there are a lot of titles. It just so happens that the titles are fragmented across the different platforms. There are not enough cross-platform development. Again, this is a matter of economics. With a lot of platforms on the market, the developers have to choose which one to develop for. In so doing, they also have to choose which one they would develop last, or not at all. It is not like the case when you need phone repair in New York, and you have to choose which one because it does not have the spare parts for your phone. Some developers and support will have to choose which to carry.
Admittedly, there should be tools for cross-platform development, where you would have one code which can be compiled in different compilers for different machines. Sadly, with the dependence on hard-wired code, the code has to be customized for each platform. This is precisely what Google Dreamview VR is trying to open up for Android. Instead of multiple Android VR implementations, there is now a freely-available Android compatible VR tool with the hardware guidelines. Again, Google hopes that this would feed the need for VR on Android.
There are a lot of gripes about hardware. For those who use VR on the desktop, there is the need for at least one camera to capture motion. There is also the tethered headset. The headset also closes off the real world, and the user can bump around and hit something in the real world. He would need space to play around inside the headgear. In addition, as stated above, the use of VR can make a person isolated with his world.
VR on Android is only marginally better because, again, you would not see anything in the real world. You cannot even see your real hands in front of your face. The ideal solution for this is some form of head gear which super imposes the VR world with the real world in the background view. This, however, is more distracting.
The only way to really gauge when VR gets integrated into the mainstream is when the sales of VR headgear becomes a significant percentage of smartphones or gaming desktops. When that happens, it would be safe to say that VR is already a mainstream item.