Oculus CTO John Carmack has said publicly that he’d love to open up Oculus Quest to Android apps to boost the headset’s usefulness, but admits he’s “not winning” the debate internally at Facebook.
Although the Quest home environment looks nothing like the home screen of your Android phone, the headset actually runs the Android operating system underneath it all. Allowing users to install and run Android apps on the headset—if just in a ‘flat’ mode on a virtual screen controlled by a laser pointer—could drastically boost the value of the headset by bringing all manner of video players, web browsers, productivity tools, utilities, and even flat games to the device.
Android apps running on Quest is apparently something Oculus’ own CTO has been arguing for internally.
Legendary developer John Carmack—who for several years held the role of Oculus CTO but now maintains a less formal “consulting CTO” arrangement—said during his Facebook Connect keynote in September that he doesn’t believe Oculus will be able to convince a meaningful portion of Android developers to rewrite their applications specifically for the headset. Instead, he says, the company needs to find a way to bring existing Android applications to Quest.
[…] it also works cooperatively with sort of our Android applications like Fandango or the other things there, and that’s still one of the things that absolutely kills me, where I think we need more Android applications.
We do not have a sorted out strategy—I’ve got a long spiel about this that I’m not gonna have time to get to—but we have all these existence-proofs and examples of… Microsoft tried really really hard to move all apps to a brand-new system [UWP and/or Windows Phone] and it just… doesn’t work out… I don’t think it’s gonna work out for us.
I think that we need to support our Android apps [on the headset] in a broader sense. We have progressive web apps as the backstop for everything, but on the mobile platforms the progressive web apps […] generally lose out [in terms of performance] to native applications, and we care more about performance in VR than in mobile systems, so I think we need a solution there, and we haven’t sorted it out.
If Oculus allowed existing Android apps onto Quest, it could radically improve the usefulness of the headset by allowing users access to a much wider range of apps. They wouldn’t be ‘native’ to VR of course, but it’s easy to understand how much more value users would see from the headset if they could load up, say, the Disney Plus app on a big virtual screen or run their favorite web browser on the headset instead of being stuck with the default. And wouldn’t it make sense to be able to run the Facebook app on Quest?
Because Quest is already running Android, it would be trivial from a technical standpoint to get Android apps up and running on the headset, and there’s a few ways Facebook could approach it.
For one, it could simply allow access to the Google Play store on the headset, allowing users to download apps they already own through the store, and then project those apps onto a flat screen inside the headset.
But it seems highly unlikely that Facebook would take this approach, as the company has clearly followed the ‘walled garden’ playbook of making the Oculus app store allowed on the headset. Instead of the Google Play store, Facebook could begin accepting ‘flat’ Android apps into the Oculus store and allow them to be distributed that way.
The company could also skip its own store and choose to allow users to sideload any Android APKs they have access too, leaving the feature mostly in the hands of power-users.
Unfortunately, we may not see any of these avenues pursued, despite Carmack’s insistence. In a recent tweet on the topic he noted, “I continue to argue for [Android apps on Quest], but so far, I’m not winning.”