Oculus Go is the most important VR creation yet
Oculus finally figured out how to get consumers excited about virtually reality: It just had to take a little bit of advice from the late Steve Jobs.
The company introduced its first standalone virtual reality headset, the Oculus Go, during its developers conference on Wednesday, pricing it at $199.
Jobs, the founder and former CEO of Apple, identified $199 as the “magic” price for consumers back in 2005 with the iPod Mini and continued it in 2008 with the introduction of the iPhone 3GS (yes, I know, that’s not counting subsidies).
The strategy was so successful that, for a time, virtually every other smartphone on the market was offered at the same, magical price.
Why is $199 such a good price? It’s not super cheap, but believe it or not, it appears to trigger a response in consumers.
Ask them to pay $300 or more for cutting-edge technology, especially something as unproven as virtual reality that still needs more expensive hardware to work, and they balk (Oculus sold just 355,000 Oculus units in 2016). But set a sub-$200 price, even just a dollar below that threshold, and consumers are ready to take the leap.
Apple wasn’t even the first to discover this magical price point. Back in 2002, the very first iRobot Roomba robotic vacuums were priced at $199.95. Even though they’ve since gotten a lot more expensive, that initial magic price point helped launch a robot vacuum industry.
Just Go and do VR
This $199 magic price, though, will only get Oculus so far. The other key to the potential success of Oculus Go is that it’s a self-contained system.
Unless you’re a gamer, virtual reality has been a tough sell for consumers who are put off by the extra costs and complexity of most VR systems.
Samsung has achieved some success with its Gear VR headset, which was developed with Oculus, but it also often sells the $99 headsets as a bundle with its much more expensive Galaxy smartphones. This makes sense since the headsets are useless without the phones.
Even the more powerful Oculus Rift and HTC Vive are inoperable husks without powerful PCs to back them. And if you go that route, setting up a system like the Vive, which requires wall-mounted trackers, is a bridge-too-far for most consumers.
Microsoft’s self-contained HoloLens headsets lower the complexity, but are priced in the thousands and only sold to developers and businesses. Plus, they don’t do full VR. Even Microsoft’s more affordable Mixed Reality Headsets that can handle immersive experiences need Windows 10 PCs to function.
Oculus Go simultaneously solves both the price and complexity issue.
There will, naturally, be limits to what Oculus can offer for $199. For example, the included controller will only track one of your hands with a built-in accelerometer, and the headset can’t track your hand movement in space. Similarly, the motion trackers in Oculus Go will probably be fewer and less precise than what you can get in an Oculus Rift. In addition, the Oculus Santa Cruz prototype, a potential no-compromises, standalone VR experience, is waiting in the wings. But that headset is years out and will probably cost more than $199.
I have a feeling that consumers will be pleasantly surprised by the Oculus Go experience.
Not vomit machines
As an industry leader, there’s no way anyone at Oculus will accept anything less than an immersive and comfortable VR experience. They can’t afford to skimp on frame rates or head-motion tracking and risk users feeling nauseous. Bad Oculus Go experiences would mark a swift end to the company’s new product line.
As I see it, the Oculus Go and Oculus Rift are on different development paths. The already-in market Rift must be adjusted from the outside. Oculus makes incremental changes that maintain compatibility with systems and a consistent usage experience for those who’ve already adopted the platform. The price on Rift continues to drop because Oculus is achieving efficiencies on the components side and, maybe, because they’ve also reached enough scale to spread out costs.
Development on the Oculus Go uses what the company already learned about integrating the screens (note how the Go matches and improves upon the Rift’s LCDs — it has WQHD 2,560 x 1,440 LCD lenses) and motion sensors inside the Rift, but lets its engineers start from scratch on how they integrate all of it.
My guess is the level of processing power inside the Oculus Go will be on the high-end of the Qualcomm Snapdragon line with lots of RAM and battery life to back it up. The visual experience could also be quite good because Oculus gets to integrate the screen. This should significantly cut down on the parallax that most people experience when they use their smartphones as their VR screens. No phone also means the headset could be lighter and more comfortable to wear.
The core benefit of a standalone Oculus Go, though, is that the whole VR solution is in one box. That makes it more like your phone. A solution you can pick up and use instantly.
Oculus Go might even help Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg achieve his crazy one billion social VR user goal. Think about it. How likely are you to try VR social media when you know you have to put your phone in a headset or hook it up to a powerful PC? Exactly. But if engaging in social VR is as easy as initiating a FaceTime call, many more people might give it a try.
If Oculus Go is as good as I think it can be and maintains its $199 price point, we are about to witness the dawn of a new era in VR, perhaps the precise moment when its virtual promise finally becomes a reality.