An attendee of Facebook's F8 Developers Conference wears an Oculus Go wireless VR headset on May 1. Credit: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg
Facebook tried to remove almost every objection to buying a virtual reality headset with the launch of Oculus Go. Its move is more intriguing given the timing of the latest release from Snap, whose app Snapchat created a mass market for augmented reality. The devices are polar opposites, but they share one trait in common.
I'm hesitant to order virtual reality headsets, as the excitement fades minutes after taking them out of the box. Still, I was excited to shell out $200 for the Go. This is the first major VR headset that doesn't require being tethered to a computer, and better still, it doesn't require using your phone as the screen. Once you set up Go, it is fully self-contained. It also comes with a compelling content library, from adventure games to movies.
Right after Go's debut, Lenovo released the rival Mirage Solo running on Google Daydream which also doesn't connect to other devices. While initial reviews dub Mirage a better device, it's twice the price of Go, and Oculus is the preeminent brand in VR. This is the chance for Oculus to go from Uber Black to UberX, shifting from a luxurious splurge to an everyday utility.
But just before Facebook released Go, Snapchat showed off its new version of Spectacles, the glasses that record short videos, and now photos. Spectacles, selling for $150, provide an entirely different perspective, far beyond the dichotomy of virtual versus augmented reality. Here is how the two compare.
Go transports you to new surroundings. You're under the ocean, on a roller coaster, floating in space or in a private movie theater.
Spectacles add a layer to your surroundings.
Go comes in one color—a sleek silver.
Spectacles come in three colors—"sapphire," "onyx" and "ruby." The colors then have shades. Select onyx, and you must choose the lighter "moonlight" or opaque "eclipse."
Go invites you to host or join a virtual party with any of your Facebook friends who have an Oculus. You can hear friends' voices and see their floating, cartoonish avatars.
Spectacles want you to be the life of the party, and then trigger that fear of missing out from everyone else who sees the Snaps.
Go gives you an avatar, one that you can't customize much. It will probably wind up looking nothing like you.
Spectacles might cover your eyes, but it turns you into a real-world avatar—that of someone who wears Spectacles.
Go is for the living room, bedroom, den, or possibly the office. A daring person might use it on a train or plane, but you would have to be trusting of everyone around you.
Spectacles are for the beach, the barbecue, or wherever kids hang out these days (Picket lines? Childish Gambino concerts? Chick-Fil-A?).
Go requires you to put down your phone. It is useless, and you can't see it with the headset strapped on.
Spectacles want you to pick up your phone. That's where you do the post-production, adding any filters or captions before sharing photos and videos.
Go wants everyone around you to know that you have entered the Matrix and are in full-on virtual reality mode.
Spectacles stand out to tech enthusiasts, but the average person on the street will have little clue what you're wearing or what these glasses can do.
Go is constantly trying to upsell you. While there are many free apps, the Oculus Store pushes apps and movies ranging from $0.99 to $14.99, with bundles selling for north of $30.
Spectacles is constantly trying to sell you on using Snapchat.
Go will make people miss using their phones. When it's good, it's too good. You can't wait to keep going, yet you can't wait to take it off.
Spectacles will make people long to put away their phones. The biggest drawback of Spectacles is not the "the hands-free camera" advertised. Beyond needing to tap the glasses to record media, you then need to open Snapchat to post it, or save media to share through other channels.
Go lets you live-stream what you watch through the headset. But it's virtual, not real.
Spectacles' lack of live-streaming is their most glaring oversight.
Go will expand the market for VR by just enough to keep Facebook trying to figure out the killer app that could make a future Go headset a mass market device.
Spectacles will make investors wish Snap had kept the name Snapchat and focused on the app. But Spectacles will be a fun toy for twentysomethings to show off at the pool or Childish Gambino concerts.
Go and Spectacles will both make people feel lighter, freer, and more present when users put down their goggles, turn off their other devices and experience the world as it happens through their own eyes.