Facebook will move the needle...slightly.
Virtual reality is laying the groundwork for a revolution in interactivity. The Oculus Quest, a self-contained headset due to launch in the spring of 2019, is set to take things even further by ditching the need for would-be VR gamers to bring their own beefy PC to power virtual reality experiences. It’s an important stepping stone to mass adoption, but Inverse predicts that the Quest is unlikely to be the technology’s breakout moment.
Anyone that’s used a virtual reality headset knows the technology holds promise. Simple smartphone holders can get a tantalizing glimpse for just a few dollars by enabling users to explore virtual worlds by tilting their head side-to-side, backward and forward, and left to right. More advanced headsets like the $349 Oculus Rift and $499 HTC Vive allow players to move their whole body through three more degrees, so they can walk around these worlds in a more natural way. But even at these high prices, they still require a computer to power the whole thing.
The Quest looks like it could bridge the gap. At $399, the headset uses a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 mobile processor to cut the computer from the equation. It comes with two handheld controllers, tracked by a series of cameras on the outside of the headset. The cameras also eliminate the need for external sensors, meaning it’s as simple as get up and go.
VR Stays in the Shadows
While the technology looks impressive, sales figures suggest it’s still in the early stages. IDC data released in September show the market actually declined 34 percent year-over-year, and the leader in tethered headsets HTC shipped around 111,000 headsets in the second quarter of 2018. By comparison to other technologies, these are tiny figures: Sony sold around 20 million PlayStation 4s last year and Apple sold 217 million iPhones. The analysis firm is positive about the sector’s future potential, but there’s still a ways to go before its potential starts translating into actual sales, and virtual reality is unlikely to become a selling point for smartphones any time soon.
“Based on the volumes of units I see passing through our VR tracker data, the impact on mobile will just be a drop in the bucket when we look at total smartphone volumes,” Melissa Chau, associate research director at IDC, tells Inverse. “Devices like the Quest might encourage consumers to perhaps upgrade a little sooner but we aren’t close to the stage where it will drive mobile growth.”
Even Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, whose company owns Oculus, has suggested virtual reality is going to need some more time to get going. In a February 2017 earnings call, he said the sector faced a “chicken and egg” problem as content creators wait for consumers to buy up headsets, while consumers wait for more content. He also described adoption as a “10-year thing,” comparing it to the smartphone that took 10 years from its 2003 launch to reach one billion users, adding “I don’t think that there is really a strategy to pull this [virtual reality] in from ten years to five.”
VR’s Big Moment?
There are signs that virtual reality could take off in a big way sooner than expected. Apple and Google have both released augmented reality kits for their smartphone platforms to enable developers to create easy-to-pick-up experiences similar to Snapchat and Pokemon Go. Sony’s PlayStation VR, which only requires a PS4 to offer six-degree virtual reality games, had sold three million units from its October 2016 launch to August 2018.
Statista projects Sony will lead the market with 2.2 million units shipped in 2019. In total, the market is expected to ship six million units in the coming year. In terms of revenue, the consumer market is set to double in size next year to $6.8 billion.
19 Predictions for 2019: What Inverse Thinks
The Quest looks cool, and its release could be remembered as a landmark moment. But in such a young market, the product is unlikely to be remembered as the one that brought the technology to the mainstream. With the total market forecast to hit a staggering $202 billion in 2022, the technology’s biggest days are still around the corner. Inverse predicts the Quest will turn heads, but will not bring about an industry tipping point just yet.