Virtual reality hasn’t really caught on with consumers yet because no one has come up with the right combination of hardware and content necessary to make it a must-have product. But the companies behind VR aren’t giving up.
For consumers, VR comes in two imperfect forms. There are powerful systems that can deliver high-quality experiences, but they cost several hundred dollars and require the user to be tethered to a computer or videogame console to render the images. Then there are cheaper systems that work with mobile phones, such as
Gear VR and Google’s Daydream, which often cost less than $100 but lack the power to deliver experiences like high-end videogames.
That has kept the VR market small. IDC estimates that about 3.4 million tethered VR headsets shipped in 2017, which was the first full year on the market for high-profile headsets from Sony,
and Facebook’s Oculus. The “screenless” VR devices that work with mobile phones shipped about 5.7 million units. By way of comparison,
first-year sales of its new Switch console has exceeded 10 million units.
The companies behind VR are taking steps in the right direction. Prices are coming down, and new designs are in the works, such as a tether-free VR headset called Oculus Go that Facebook expects to launch next year. Eliminating the tether will also be key for a close cousin of VR known as augmented reality. IDC projects that stand-alone headsets will account for 48% of total VR and AR shipments by 2020, compared with 5% for 2017.
But improving the gear has its limits. Both VR and AR still lack a “killer app” that consumers can’t live without. Until that comes, cutting the cord will only take the technology so far.
Write to Dan Gallagher at firstname.lastname@example.org