Why the Oculus Go and Oculus Quest won’t take VR mainstream
It’s been three years since Facebook acquired Oculus for $2 billion, and a lot has changed since then. The flagship Oculus Rift is dramatically cheaper with a starting price of $400 instead of the $600 when it hit the market in 2015. Then in October 2017, Oculus announced the Oculus Go, a $200 VR headset for the masses. Now Oculus is readying the release of the Oculus Quest, a $400 VR headset that is completely wireless and doesn’t require an expensive PC to run, but will provide a near-flagship VR experience like the Rift. To put the $400 price into perspective, the Xbox One X and Sony PlayStation 4 Pro cost $100 more. That’s no coincidence as Oculus is positioning the Quest as an alternative gaming console.
With VR more affordable than ever, does it mean VR will be mainstream soon? VR optimists argue yes, as the new hardware is completely wireless, portable, and cheaper than ever. While that may all be true, VR is still waiting for a defining moment to catapult the platform into the mainstream, and the release of the Oculus Go and Quest isn’t that.
Cheaper, wireless hardware isn’t enough
The Oculus GO and Quest are a big deal for VR hardware, as they no longer require specialized cameras to track movement. Instead, the Quest uses sensors in the goggles, machine learning, and computer vision to track your position in an environment. This means you can take the Go and Quest with you to share VR experiences instead of having to be tethered to a PC at home. This is a huge leap forward for VR tech, but it will not be enough for the platform to go mainstream as users aren’t receiving a must-have experience from VR yet.
Even with the low, middle, and high end VR market catered to by Oculus, VR is still an emerging platform. We’ve long believed that AR would be the more popular platform because of mobile support from Apple and Google with ARKit and ARCore, and we’ve seen more mobile-powered AR experiences emerge over the years, like Dumpling Design’s Smash Tanks game.
In contrast, VR still requires consumers to buy new, specialized hardware whereas AR lets people use the smartphones they already have to experience immersive content. Mobile AR is a great way to get consumers to experience just some of the experiences that are possible with AR. There are flagship experiences like the Magic Leap One and Microsoft Hololens but dedicated AR goggles suffer from the same problems as VR: expensive, bulky hardware and the lack of content.
VR’s chicken or the egg problem
The biggest challenge facing VR right now is the lack of content. This means consumers aren’t going to adopt VR because there’s no “killer app”, and at the same time, there’s no incentive for developers to make more content if the audience isn’t on VR. It’s the chicken or the egg problem for VR right now.
Contributing to VR’s difficulty going mainstream is the fact that there’s no good way of sharing the experience. It’s impossible to be wowed by VR without experiencing it firsthand. Microsoft and BestBuy’s brick and mortar stores offer VR demos for passersby but with more and more people shopping online, it’s hard to expose a large number of consumers to the platform. And if you own a VR headset, you can’t share the same experience with your friends, even if they’re in the same room. The best you can do right now is show a 2D feed from your headset for observers to watch, negating the immersive nature of VR.
Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of amazing VR experiences on the market today. Tilt Brush is an unique creative tool for artists who want to build in a 3D space. Games like Robo Recall take you directly into the action. New York Times has done a great job with its VR reports, giving subscribers a first-person look instead of observing passively. These experiences couldn’t exist without VR, but do they justify the $200 to $1600 consumers need to spend to experience them? For most, the answer is no. Until VR hardware can be affordable enough to be an impulse-buy, the platform won’t take off.
Take smart speakers for example. Alexa and Google Assistant-enabled speakers wouldn’t have taken off unless Amazon and Google decided to release the ultra-affordable Echo Dot and Google Home Mini. These $50 speakers are cheap enough that they lowered the cost of entry for many consumers who were curious about voice assistants in the home. Consumer who enjoy using the Echo Dot and Google Home Mini will eventually purchase additional speakers, and increasingly rely on voice as a computing platform, launching voice computing into the mainstream. For Apple, which only offers the $350 HomePod speaker with Siri, the premium price it commands means the HomePod sees single digit adoption rates, compared to Amazon’s 62% and Google’s 27%.
VR needs its iPhone moment
On the surface, it appears that Facebook and Oculus are offering consumers more choices for VR headsets than anyone else. But the differing experiences across each of its headsets causes consumer confusion. There’s no easy way for consumers to find out what apps or experiences are available for each headset thanks to the different hardware available. The Go can’t support two hand controllers, the Quest runs on Qualcomm’s last generation mobile processors, and the Rift is the company’s flagship but still requires wires and motion tracking cameras.
For now, VR is waiting for its iPhone moment. The iPhone wasn’t the first mobile phone on the market but it was the one that changed the entire ecosystem because it was a smartphone that people actually wanted to use. While the Oculus Go and Quest are a step in the right direction, consumers won’t jump on VR as a platform until both the hardware and software experiences are must-haves.
On the hardware side, VR goggles need to be much more compact, wireless, and powerful enough to drive high-quality content. On the software side, there needs to be compelling experiences that people rely on every day. VR is undoubtedly a compelling platform that offers experiences you can’t get anywhere else, but whether it’s going to be the next big computing platform, like the switch from desktop to mobile, remains to be seen.