A year after Microsoft completed the acquisition of Nokia’s smartphone business, we learn that one of the three units the Finnish company retains – Nokia Technologies – is planning a comeback in the consumer market. Not content with launching a new smartphone in 2016 when it is once again allowed to use the Nokia branding on these devices, the firm is also said to have some ambitious technology projects lined up including a virtual reality (VR) kit.
Though details are sketchy at present, it wouldn’t surprise me if Nokia introduces a headset that is compatible with its forthcoming smartphone in much the same way that the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 works with the Oculus-powered Gear VR headset. After all, there is a clear trend taking place toward so-called mobile VR, which is unsurprising given the fact that smartphone ownership is now approaching a saturation point in many developed markets. Many of these smartphones already include the requisite sensors to provide a more than satisfactory experience for VR virgins and this is key to the early success of the market – especially as it is not yet clear when PC and console-based headsets will become more widely available. During its Q1 earnings call recently, Facebook announced that the Oculus Rift will not have “large shipment volumes” in 2015. Sony, meanwhile, recently confirmed that a commercial version of Project Morpheus will go on sale in 2016, although an exact release date wasn’t confirmed.
So who are the contenders right now in the mobile VR space? Upon kicking off a new research project that will result in two forthcoming Tractica reports on VR, I quickly learned that there are a lot more than I originally imagined. Let’s start with those products that are very much entry-level and an excellent way to provide a cheap system for experiencing the power of head-mounted display (HMD) technology. Those reading this piece are most probably already familiar with Google Cardboard – a simple VR viewer anyone can build or buy. Then there’s a raft of inexpensive Cardboard clones that are made of plastic. Ritech VR is available for just $11, Colorcross VR (known as Archos VR in Europe) can be had for $16, while the Xiaozhai Magic 3D Glasses cost a couple of dollars more. Samsung’s great rival, LG, has been working with Google to build a headset for its G3 smartphone. According to Engadget, the company intends to throw in a free headset, simply called the VR for G3, with the purchase of its latest flagship Android phone at participating retailers.
At the high end of the market, there is the aforementioned Samsung Gear VR, which is probably the most well-known example of a mobile VR headset. Gear VR has been widely praised and turned out a lot better than many were expecting. Indeed, Oculus CTO, John Carmack, even admitted that the device surprised the internal Oculus team. Having tried the device at the recent Aircraft Interiors show in Hamburg (where many vendors where experimenting with VR for new in-flight entertainment solutions), I too was also suitably impressed. For those who don’t own the rather large Galaxy Note 4, a redesigned version compatible with the new Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge smartphones will be available in the next few weeks for the same $200.
In between the two extremes are headsets like the VR One made by optics manufacturer, Carl Zeiss. Retailing for $100, the device works with a variety of premium smartphones and comes with a choice of holder for the iPhone 6 or Samsung Galaxy S5. Eyedak’s vrAse is another worth mentioning and offers “perfect fit” cases for a number of the best-selling smartphones as well as a universal adapter to ensure any smartphone with screens from 3.5” to 6.2” can be used to enjoy a VR experience. After three years in the making, vrAse is expected to be finally made available in the first half of 2015 at a similar price to the VR One.
With VR still a nascent market, it is going to take a lot of people experimenting with the technology to make it mainstream. The more people who can try it, the faster we will all learn how to use it. That’s why VR headsets for an array of smartphones are fundamental to overcoming this learning curve. When you can pop your device into one of these VR headsets and then pass it along to a friend to try with his or her device, VR is much easier to experiment with. As I mentioned earlier, there are many contenders in the mobile VR space and honorable mentions must go to the following: