Why Consumer VR Headsets Have Potential but Need a Killer App to Survive

on August 27, 2018
Reading Time: 3 minutes

From the first time I used a VR Headset, I was skeptical that it could ever become a consumer hit. The industrial strength models, such as the original Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive, were expensive and were tethered to a PC to work. While what they delivered in ways of VR functionality was exciting, it mostly garnered interest in gaming and for use in some verticals.

Samsung jumped in with their own Galaxy VR headset in which you put a Samsung phone inside, and a smartphone powered it. Early models were interesting and got some consumer uptake but never really took off.

Today we have some new VR headsets, most notably the Oculus GO and Lenovo’s Mirage Solo with DayDream in the $199-$399 price range in which the headset itself has the CPU and internal memory and delivers a stand-alone VR experience. These models are aimed squarely at consumers, and the companies behind these new VR products hope that these could finally cause the low end of the VR headsets to take off.

For the past two weeks, I have been using both the Lenovo Mirage Solo with Daydream and the Oculus Go and have enjoyed the experience. In my case, watch Netflix, and Hulu shows on them since it delivers a considerable screen viewing experience that is fun to watch. I also am an armchair traveler these days and the various shows that highlight different countries and points of interest are cool too.

Not much of this content is true VR. Hulu and Netflix have their apps on these devices so you can view their content on a big screen. Some of the travel apps have 3D 360 degree viewing features. On the other hand, the Disney VR snippets and some of the other apps deliver actual VR experiences where it puts you in the center of the action, and these apps show the real potential that a consumer VR headset can provide.

However, these dedicated VR apps are minimal today on these stand-alone consumer VR headsets. Which brings me to the real problem that needs to be solved if these are to take off. While many apps and travel sites deliver 360-degree views and in some cases do it in 3D, its the actual VR experience that could bring these headsets to more consumers.

For example, Disney has a few VR examples in their Oculus Go app that brings you right into the movie scene. In the dining scene from Beauty and the Beast, you are sitting at the head of the table while the plates, dishes and the candlestick dances in front of you and around you. In their Coco movie preview, you are on the stage with one of the lead characters as he sings and dances. Disney seems very committed to VR and over time is planning to convert more of their movies to VR and even create VR dedicated videos too.

There are also some specialty video sites that have created 3D VR styled videos in which they use a 3D camera and interject you into a specific scene. Then there are the VR games that plop you into the action and roller coaster type apps in which you feel like you are sitting in the roller coaster as it travels on its track and gives you the visual sensations you get when riding in a real roller coaster. (These are the apps that cause dizziness and nausea, and this particular problem needs to be addressed for any VR headset to gain broad acceptance)

I admit that I am enamored with these low end stand alone VR headsets and can waste many hours playing games, watching videos. Even though most are still 2D, and the VR apps are not plentiful, the experience, at least for a techie like me, is always fun. However, what exists in the way of 2D, 3D and VR content today makes it hard for a mainstream consumer to justify the cost at this point. Also, from using these for a while, I have not seen what I call a “killer app” for low-end VR headsets.

The higher end VR headsets the deliver high-quality gaming experiences are the killer app for that set of people. Also, in vertical markets, VR apps needed for people to do their jobs more effectively is the killer app for them
However, after viewing over 100 apps and videos on these low-cost stand-alone VR headsets, I cannot say that any one of them one drive me to buy one of these if I were a mainstream consumer.

There are some categories of apps that could be attractive to some audiences. Seniors might enjoy the travel apps and documentaries. Gen Z and some millennial’s might enjoy the gaming apps. Three are some useful educational apps and even ones that are great for meditating. Moreover, as I said above, I like watching Netflix and Hulu since I get the giant movie screen viewing experience with these services on a VR headset.

However, we need a killer app of some kind that is transformative and can get the interest of a broad consumer audience for these headsets to ever go mainstream. Until that happens, I am afraid the demand for these low cost, and self-contained VR headsets will remain tepid at best.