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Evolution and Opportunity in Mobile VR

 

Photo Credit: http://www.develop-online.net/

 

The third wave of the Virtual Reality movement started in 2014. To be more precise, it started when Facebook acquired Oculus for $2 billion, making Oculus the industry giant that defined the new standard of Virtual Reality to modern consumers. Just a few months after, at the Google I/O conference, Google released “Google Cardboard”, a $10 fold-out cardboard viewer.

 

For the past 3 years, technical giants have been investing in vertical domains such as hardware, software, platform, industrial application, and content. Virtual reality is disrupting almost every industry and everyone is trying to embrace it to create their own evolution.

 

On the consumer level, the experience is delivered to end-users in 2 major ways: PC-based VR hardware, such as Oculus, HTC Vive, and PSVR, which requires high-end PC support and costs around 3000 USD to setup, and mobile based VR device, like GearVR and the many cardboard devices. As of today, almost 1.5 million PCVR devices and more than 50 million cardboard devices have been delivered to the end consumer.

 

Although the number of users is increasing significantly, VR is still far from mainstream. In 2016, 1,488 million smartphones were shipped globally, almost all of which can run the basic VR experience such as Youtube 360 videos; mobile VR has a great potential to be picked up.

 

When we compare mobile VR with PC, what exactly is the main constraint?

 

Essentially, the performance of mobile VR is limited by its hardware. As mobile VR relies on the mobile phone to run both computing and display, it will be a challenge for it to deal with content that requires heavy GPU processing, such as high polygon 3D graphics and high bitrate video feeds. Furthermore, as mobile devices do not have position trackers, the ways that users can interact with the virtual world are limited. In most cases, users need to stay in a static position, and cannot walk around. Of course, the overall power consumption and overheating is always a challenge when running long experiences.

 

On the other hand, mobile VR has its own unique advantages. As it only requires a headset and a mobile phone, it is very easy to set up, especially in groups. In addition, there are already several content platforms which support the publishing of mobile VR content. Finally, the overall user base is much larger than the PC VR user base. These unique features of mobile VR make it suitable for a few applications.

 

360 video entertainment is the main content that is being delivered via mobile VR. Many companies and brands are using 360 videos (both pre-produced and live-streaming) to engage their audience. Content creators are producing various entertainment content like performances, music, live events, drama, and animation. As the experience can be delivered as a 360 video in a mobile application, it also allows the content to be interactive.

 

In the advertising and creative industry, mobile VR is widely used to enhance the end-user experience. This is especially relevant in scenarios which require a scalable offline audience setup, such as public events, brand campaigns, and film festivals.  There are content creators dedicated to working on these applications, from providing creative production services, to system integration solutions and hardware setup.

 

For industrial applications, the tourism, property, education, enrichment and training sectors can use VR to produce scenes which are not always accessible.

Besides the video format application, there are also several games being developed on the mobile VR platform. However, due to the limitations of the device, most games run for short durations, with limited graphic effects.

 

Starting from 2016, Singapore has shifted their focus to this domain. In fact, the Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) has already begun to run pilot VR education and training projects with industrial partners. Additionally, Starhub and Mediacorp have released VR livestreaming events, Property Guru has launched a VR property roadshow, and the Singapore Tourism Board has produced a series of VR episodes on Singapore. Currently, there are about 50 local start-ups exploring this domain.

 

The future of mobile VR will move towards two directions.

 

On one side, mobile VR will be empowered by other integrated hardware/software technology, such as remote control motion sensors, SLAM based position tracking technology, and finger/facial/eye tracking technologies. These technologies will allow the developers to create more interactive content.

 

On the other side, as mobile VR gains momentum, the creation of content will only become easier. Users who have no programming background will be able to rely on third-party tools to create their own VR experiences, and share from the platform. Once users are empowered to become creators, the eco-system will then firm up.

 

Opportunities exist at both the technical and content domain. For new start-ups, the wise choice is to find a niche direction and to focus on solving one problem in this industry.

 

By Ender Jiang & Jerrie Liao

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