How Does Oculus Survive on Mobile?

Oculus and Gear VR need some differentiating factors if they are going to stand a chance against Google’s impending mobile VR takeover. There’s at least three places they could create that differentiation, and one move that could at least help put them on even footing.

Content

At present this is perhaps Oculus’ biggest advantage in the mobile VR space. The platform has more than 700 apps, and while not all of them are great, that’s a much larger library than Daydream which is currently floating around 150.

Oculus could attempt to force content differentiation through funding the development of platform-exclusive content—and this seems likely given past practices—but such deals will become increasingly expensive for the company if the Gear VR install base begins to significantly lag behind the Daydream install base.

Experience/Positioning

Right now, the capabilities of Gear VR and Daydream are nearly identical from a user perspective. Both now offer a motion controller for input, and in fact there’s a number of games that are deployed on both platforms with little to differentiate the experience.

It’s possible that Oculus could push the hardware envelope and dream up some new tech that would fundamentally differentiate the end-user experience on Gear VR compared to Daydream. It looked like inside-out positional tracking could have been that trump card when the company showed off the impressive standalone Rift ‘Santa Cruz’ prototype back in 2016, but Google’s newly announced standalone Daydream headsets also bring inside-out positional tracking to the table.

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Other experiential differentiators could be things like eye-tracking, face tracking, mouth tracking, pass-through AR capabilities, and more.

The problem though is that these are all currently high-end capabilities and would likely push the price of Gear VR up, necessitating a “premium” positioning of the product and platform, attempting to pitch it as the ‘high-end of mobile VR’. Doing so seems risky however, as one of mobile VR’s biggest appeals is the low cost.

Developer Tech

Oculus is quite proud of the engineering work they’ve done on their developer tools, and in some cases they can bring distinct performance advantages, allowing developers to create better looking games on the same hardware (or identical looking content on less expensive hardware). For instance, on desktop, Oculus pioneered the ASW technique which managed to reduce the hardware requirements for games on the Oculus platform compared to other VR games.

It isn’t clear if Oculus could create the same advantages in the mobile VR space, but making the lives of developers easier is one way to keep them coming back.

Even Footing by Being Vendor Agnostic

It would likely take a serious rearchitecting of the company’s mobile platform, but Oculus could ditch Samsung as their exclusive partner and make Oculus Home on mobile compatible with any Android smartphone that meets a certain minimum specification, just like Daydream.

Such a move would negate some (but not all) of Daydream’s core advantages as a vendor-agnostic platform and make Gear VR just one headset of many that would support Oculus Home on mobile. Hell, they could even let Daydream headsets work with Oculus Home. This move would compound well with an approach that seeks to differentiate on a content basis, with Oculus potentially pitching their platform as the place to get the best mobile VR content.

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And while such a move might seem unlikely due to Oculus’ close partnership with Samsung, given that Oculus wants to succeed as a VR platform in the mobile space—rather than a hardware manufacturer—opening the door to as many devices as possible is in their best interest.

– – — – –

When Google announced Daydream back at the beginning of 2016 it became immediately apparent that the Google-Samsung-Oculus love triangle was due to face some challenges. There’s no way that this caught Oculus off-guard either, and so I can only imagine they have been planning their next steps in the mobile VR space. We’ll have to wait and see how the company intends to navigate these new challenges, though I would venture to guess that Santa Cruz will play a major role in their forward looking mobile strategy.

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  • Andrew Jakobs

    I don’t think Oculus will be a real player anymore once more and more daydream devices are available. The advantage google has is that it already ships Playstore with every daydream device so no need to first install a separate store (which ofcourse could also be a problem if Oculus is knocking on EU’s door about it as it IS a monopoly by now).
    But I guess Oculus will not be a major player anymore, not the way they seem to go (no new headset for about 2 years)..

    • Get Schwifty!

      I am really amazed at how many people thought a release of a new headset in two years from introduction was the plan (or even necessary)… Oculus was always pretty up front with a cadence that was going to be slower than phones but faster than consoles… three years seems to make perfect sense between releases.

      • Andrew Jakobs

        Problem is, competition isn’t standing still, and people seem to bitch about the ‘low’ quality of the screens (personally I think it’s all bullocks as it pretty good (at least the PSVR has low screendoor)). Most people would have thought of at least a 2 year cycle not 3 years. The first batch of Oculus Rifts and HTC vive are nothing more than ‘early bird’ devices, excellent for the enthousiast, but not really suitable for regular consumers (especially pricewise).
        I own a DK2 but I don’t think the CV1 is much more advanced (yes it is better, I know) for me to buy it (unless I really get back into developing again). I’ll wait for the next batch, which might even be the coming mobile versions, who knows..

        • CazCore

          i had the same opinion about dk2 versus cv1, based on the resolution not being much better.

          but man…. once i got my CV1, it was a HUGE difference. in a LOT of ways, but even just the visuals are way better. there’s more factors than res

          • Andrew Jakobs

            As I said, I’ll only buy it when I’m back into developing for it, but at the moment I’ll wait until that happens or if another better headset arrives. I think it’s not worth the money (still have a GTX760, so I would need a new GPU AND the whole headset, which would set me back about $1000 which I’m not keen to do on the CV1 nor the HTC Vive).

  • flamaest

    It’s a race to the bottom. Many of these new headsets are lower priced, and it shows.

  • Graham J ⭐️

    I think Facebook wants to do two main things: Be the key place for social VR, and to be a big software distribution player. The former is probably a good bet as their early demos have gone over well and, well, they’re Facebook. The latter is more difficult as there are already larger distribution players on all platforms they’re part of. This they may have to concede.

  • Lucidfeuer

    Google barely sold a few thousands Daydream Headsets (aka Pyjama VR), but they have the platforms and technologies. Oculus is going nowhere: they don’t have much proprietary tech, a limited platform and tons of dependancies.

    They vaporwared their tech buy-out assets, closed their studios and completely abandoned their mid-term ambitions (that declarations about there being no new headsets before 2 years down the road means death), their only potential future is in licensing proprietary tech parts/softwares and maybe content. In other terms…they’ve been Facebooked.

    • Get Schwifty!

      “they’ve been Facebooked.” I bet you spent a lot of time thinking that one up ;)

      Of course that analysis totally leaves out the enormous resources FB can push behind Oculus if they choose to, which easily includes re-architecting, etc. if necessary. The two year announcement is about right, they have always stated the cadence would be “slower than phones but faster than consoles”, so a three year turnaround makes perfect sense. I’d be _very_ careful about announcing any key players demise this early in the game. Not everything Google touches turns to gold… despite being wed to Samsung.

      • Lucidfeuer

        Nope, it’s just popped to mind, imagine how deeply I must think it.

        Oh yes, we’ve seen how those “enormous resources”, in fact several millions of budgets turns out for most corporations and the products they sell, mainly VR headsets.

        Money, fortunately or unfortunately, didn’t prevent the demise of 90s VR headset, 3D TVs or Palms. Also it’s not even faster than consoles: except for the Wii U (which is dead and was a failure), both the Xbox One and PS4 have already been iterated after a 2.5 years cycle despite being conceive and geared for a 6/7 year lifetime cycle.

        I absolutely agree that not everything Samsung or Google touches turns to gold, in fact very little does, but I certainly know that pretty much everything Facebook touches turns to crap. There is no business or marketing rational argument to ever justify for Oculus waiting 2 years before releasing a new iteration especially given the VR context. Of course they have their own rationalisation that somehow, the conception, research and development will magically happen and pop-up for them to simply pick-it up and implement it in a future headset because as all bad marketers do, they are projecting and transferring smartphones technological development matrices to VR, the sorts of projection which are almost always assured to fail from the Wii U, to 3D TVs or smartwatches.

        Now “death” might be an overstatement, as I argued, they might have proprietary technology to license in the future, but given the context, yes Oculus as VR Headsets manufacturer is dead if they follow suit in their declaration.

  • I’m surprised this 3 page article missed out one of the big (potential) reasons Oculus will come out tops – They’re owned by who? Facebook. What is facebook know for? That’s right – building community and a sticky platform. Community and people interacting with each other, supersedes ‘content’

    Oculus allows you to ‘pull in’ your friends, family and acquaintances from your FB friends list, into a VR experience – game, movie, or just ‘hanging out’
    That – is what Google will have to contend with. (compare Google+ to FB?)

    • Ian Shook

      I’m okay with VR not being social. I prefer non social games anyway so maybe that’s why.

      • Mike

        Everything is social these days though. Instagram, Twitter, Youtube, Snapchat, Steam, Twitch. The top games played and viewed on Twitch are social: League of Legends, Dota 2, Friday the 13th, Battlegrounds, Overwatch, Hearthstone, H1Z1, Destiny, CS:GO, SC2, GTA V, Heroes of the Storm, etc.

        Having a huge social platform seems like a plus.

    • Jamie Reed

      I’m sure that Facebook is on android too?

    • The point here is, Oculus is a property of Facebook – they can implement it on any platform and hardware if they choose. What gives them a lead is being able to leverage the FB platform to build community – and drive social interaction – into VR.

  • Firestorm185

    If Oculus goes vendor-agnostic and allows other phone types to play on Home, I would laugh my head off, but probably enjoy it at the same time.

  • John Collins

    It’s nice with all these hardware announcements but it just seems like at this moment Oculus is the one actually bringing content to the table. PC side Vive is starting to pick up on content and backing developers but it seems so many companies are concentrating too much on hardware and developers are still just in a wait and see.

  • Buddydudeguy

    Mobile VR sucks and this won’t effect (real) VR at all.

    • Albert Hartman

      i largely agree on mobile. terrible tracking and terrible framerates. someday it will get fixed.

      • Eh? Gear VR has excellent rotational headtracking with 12-18ms latency and the framerate is 60fps, which could be higher but is still smooth.

        • polysix

          and no positional tracking and wall to wall cartoon/gimmick software.

          That.
          Is.
          Not.
          V.R.

  • Doctor Bambi

    Oculus is going to be fine, just like they have been, despite the constant speculation mills time and again touting the end of days for the fledgling company. But I guess that’s part of the burden you bare when you’re leading an entire industry.

    It doesn’t matter that Daydream is compatible with more phones. It doesn’t matter that Samsung will support both storefronts. It doesn’t even matter if Daydream becomes the more popular storefront overall.

    Oculus have cemented themselves as the bar setters when it comes to high quality consumer VR. Their technology runs smoother than their competitors, and their curated apps are less prone to errors. Their interface is clean and easy to understand. They are the Apple of VR and there are millions of people out there who appreciate the Apple approach to product design.

  • Darshan

    Google urgently need to expand portfolio of DayDream Ready phones with more companies with Less expensive devices to support DayDream. Targeting most expensive ones is still looking for small market, on that path they cant see TENS OF MILLIONS OF DEVICES BY 2017 END. its not possible this way….

    • They said “tens of millions of daydream ready phones”. Samsung alone is planning on selling 60 millions S8 so the target seems on point.

      The devices need high end hardware components like a high frequency IMU and powerful SoC to provide a good VR experience so they can’t simply target arbitrary phones. But with time these components should end up in most models.

      • Darshan

        I did not meant arbitrary devices but potent ones like XIAOMI MI6, ONE PLUS 3T which are not so expensive yet very powerful and can be re purposed for day dream if manufacturer bothered to include right IMU

  • Only 2 weeks ago Daydream was declared a “fealure” with only a small install base, only a handful compatible phones and basicly none of the current flagships are supporting it, like HTC U Ultra, Galaxy S8, S8+, Xperia XZ Premium, HTC U11, LG G6, Huawei P10, ect.

    So the S8/S8+ upcoming compatibility might have pushed some life back into Daydream and the Standalone Alone VR headsets which will be quite a bit more expensive than current mobiie VR headsets, are nice, great even but that doesnt mean that the mass market will buy into daydream and stay there.
    Current mobile VR might only be the stepping stone to AR or VR/AR hybrid devices, especially if Apple will release an iphone compatible AR device, the masses might not care about Daydream anymore until VR/AR devices have a much better form factor like glasses or contact lenses.

  • Eh, in fact some days ago I myself had written an article about the fact that I’m skeptical about the future of Gear VR… https://skarredghost.com/2017/05/15/uncertain-future-gear-vr-headset/ . I think that in the long term they’ll have to make their platform to evolve or it’ll just die

  • polysix

    They are both crap so who cares?

    Bring on real GEN 2 VR (PC – Wireless – Foveated) then VR may continue to be hyped again.
    (ex DK2, Vive, PSVR guy here)

  • ConceptVBS

    At the end of the day, Samsung is still the winner no matter which way the market swings.

  • Joan Villora Jofré

    2 billion android active users…

  • Aragon

    I tried both Google Daydream and Gear VR on a Galaxy Note 8. The result was astonishing.

    Google Daydream had a lot of issues with headtracking, it stutters all the time. And it was quite unstable, often Apps just end in a black screen, it seems like overheating was an issue. In between it could happen that the Headset looses connection to the Phone.

    A much better experience was Gear VR. Headtracking was perfectly smooth all the time, no crashes, could play for hours without an issue.

    My Advice is, stay away from Googledream on the Samsung Galaxy Phones.