Android Headliner: Is VR Approaching Mainstream Success?

February 10, 2016 - Written By Justin Diaz

Virtual Reality continues to captivate the masses as one of the hottest new technologies. As a gamer, it’s easy to personally be excited about the potential that can come from VR in the next 11 months or even more exciting still, the next few years. Watching the state of VR progress is going to be one wild ride with plenty to experience, but it isn’t all focused on games and that’s what makes it so much more of an intriguing market. VR is being geared towards everyone, from gamers to sports fans to movie buffs, and with more than a handful of major companies and top-name brands throwing their efforts into the mix, VR is really heating up. HTC’s Vive and Facebook’s Oculus Rift are almost without a doubt the two most popular VR devices in the public eye right now, and probably because they’re both centered around games which is a massive money making industry at the moment. The Vive and the Rift are of course by no means the only offerings which consumers will be able to get their hands on, as currently Samsung’s Gear VR is already available and offers the most immersive experience compared to things like Google’s Cardboard, with a collection of games, movies, and other media and entertainment content available, and it’s only continuing to grow.

Beyond the Gear VR, Samsung is working to develop even more efforts in the virtual reality space to stay relevant and there aren’t really even any other competitors on the field yet. In recent weeks it was announced that Samsung was opening a virtual reality movie studio in New York. That alone shows that Samsung is very serious about VR and that they want to expand it beyond what consumers are likely envisioning can come from it. What Samsung ends up producing from such a studio is still just a mystery as it’s way too early to tell, but the thought of things to come is exciting nonetheless. In addition to the VR movie studio, Samsung is also likely to announce their Gear 360 VR camera (thought to be the Project Beyond device) at the upcoming Unpacked event happening at Mobile World Congress 2016, alongside the announcement for the Galaxy S7. While there is no definitive answer yet, this is a piece of technology that is ripe for use in Samsung’s studio. It’s also possible that they simply want to have an offering for creators to make immersive 360 degree VR video content much in the way Google is doing with GoPro and the way that a handful of other companies are working on.

Samsung Project Beyond CES AH-1

These are all things that show VR is getting to the point that it could become bigger than any of the other available connected tech that we consume. Smartwatches, wearables, none of it has gotten this much effort from big companies, let alone the number of big name companies this early on. While Samsung’s offerings and potential future developments may change the game, they aren’t the only ones capable of doing so. Google has recently started putting more effort into virtual reality as well, and not just in the form of an updated Cardboard unit or more software support for the developers that make apps for it. Google now has a completely separate division dedicated to VR and the further development of VR technology and devices. They have even found someone to head the division who has already started filling up the team with talent to move forward. Whether or not anything major comes from it is unclear, but Cardboard has already done great things and it’s just a $25 piece of equipment. Just imagine what is possible with Google now working on new technology and hardware that could compete with other more expensive offerings.

In fact, just this past few days it was rumored that Google is already working on a new piece of VR hardware to be launched this year that will be more in line with Samsung’s Gear VR, complete with a sturdier plastic build as opposed to cardboard, improved sensors and lenses of a higher quality which sounds like it will be able to offer a lot more than Cardboard is capable of doing. To make things more interesting Google is even supposed to be working on new Android VR technology to launch alongside this new hardware and have it integrated into the Android software. Although there is no known price point for this yet unannounced tech, competing with Gear VR would have to put it in at least the $99 range, but with one big benefit. It’ll be compatible with many more smartphones than Samsung’s offering, which could give one huge leg up in targeting the average consumer who might want to dabble in VR without spending an arm and a leg for more involved and expensive units like the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift.

TrendForce VR chart

Aside from the players involved being obvious big time companies who have a lot of weight  and money to throw around at VR and see what sticks, 2016 is the year that’s suggested to be the one where VR really takes off, predicted to reach an excess of $14 million in sales of VR devices throughout the year, according to a research report from TrendForce from August of 2015. Just four years later TrendForce also expects sales of VR devices to more than double, reaching an estimated total of $38 million in 2020. These are all still just predictions of course, but with the current momentum of virtual reality technology and an already impressive as well as exciting list of offerings coming from top brands, 2016 could very well be the year that everything kicks off. If it weren’t for the amount of companies involved in researching and developing their own VR technology, companies like HTC who are 100%  committed to VR development might be looked at as making a bad business decision in seeing VR as more important than smartphones. But, considering the amount of excitement surrounding the HTC Vive and all of the attention it’s already getting, it seems HTC is making the right call to go all in on something that is still fresh and has yet to break out into the mainstream on a massive scale.

Of course, before VR can really take off there are things that will have to be addressed. One of those things is the fact that some users will undoubtedly try to wear a VR headset for extended periods of time, so, the issue of nausea and other potential health-related risks comes into question. As part of an experiment to see what would happen if you immersed yourself in a world of VR for a long period of time that is well past what the majority of users would be experiencing, an artist named Thorsten Wiedemann wore an HTC Vive for a total of 48 hours. During this time he wasn’t completely engaging with VR content, and there were also about two and a half hours of sleep included while wearing the headset, but it’s the idea of wearing it for such a long period of time that makes it interesting. What’s more is that Wiedemann claimed there was absolutely no “VR sickness,” which is a common concern it seems should any user wear a VR headset for too long. While this really has nothing to do with success of VR directly, it shows the kind of attention that VR is getting which really frames the aspect of how popular it is, and it’s this popularity that does a good job of putting the spotlight on virtual reality’s rise to the top.