Dell launched Mobile Connect this time last year, letting some Dell & Alienware PC users view and interact with their phone’s notifications and apps on traditional monitors. Now, the company has unveiled a way to bring that same functionality to VR too in a pretty big way. But dude, you need a Dell.
The company says you’ll be able to do a lot in SteamVR with the Dell Mobile Connect PC app and the companion mobile app running on a capable smartphone. That includes answering phone calls, reading and responding to text messages, receiving third-party app notifications, and interacting with apps via screen mirroring via Android. The company hasn’t given us a specific release date, although we suspect it will go live fairly soon.
Big caveat: only specific Dell & Alienware computers can run the software, which includes Dell Inspiron, XPS, Vostro or Alienware computers purchased after January 2018. Of course, your computer will need to meet the minimum specs to run VR too.
Supported mobile devices include Android phones running Android 5.0 and up, and Apple phones running iOS 10 and up. It’s not clear what the limitations are on the iOS side of things, but we’ll be demoing it here at CES soon to find out.
A short video from Dell (linked above and below) shows off some of Mobile Connect’s capabilities on Android. Notifications show up in the lower register; you can then go to the SteamVR menu and choose to interact with them, such as responding to a call or returning a WhatsApp message using a preset message such as “I’m in VR now,” or custom message using SteamVR’s virtual keyboard.
A virtual smartphone also lets you view your phone’s screen directly in VR, allowing you to thumb through all of your phone’s apps and resize the screen for easier viewing while experiencing any app running through SteamVR.
Dell maintains the VR function isn’t really a full product, but more of a demo of its VR capability currently.
While it’s clearly a neat addition to Dell & Alienware PCs, it’s hard to imagine anyone buying either for the expressed reason of being able to use their phone in VR. The subset of VR users in the overall PC gaming crowd is already pretty low, but we hasten to think that the number dwindles even further as the Venn diagram accounts for users that happen to own a pricey off-the-shelf Dell or Alienware computer capable of running PC VR headsets and a SteamVR-compatible PC VR headset itself.
It’s also not clear if there’s anything that gives Dell or Alienware hardware a natural reason to make this a hardware-specific exclusive. The company blandly states in the Windows Store listing for the app that pre-January 2018 computers aren’t supported because they want to “ensure the highest level of quality,” and that they’re currently investigating expansion to PCs purchased before that date. What’s more likely is that Dell wants you to buy their latest computers.
Interestingly enough, HTC also implemented a lesser version of this in 2016 which lets you receive incoming calls, messages, or upcoming calendar events, although the company admittedly stopped work on it soon after.
We’ll be checking out Dell’s work on the VR implementation of Mobile Connect, so check back soon.