Opinion

VR: The New Proving Ground for Mobile Giants?

VR: The New Proving Ground for Mobile Giants?

At MWC 2016, we've already seen some of the biggest companies throw their hat into the VR ring, announcing headsets and 360-degree cameras. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg made a surprise appearance at the Samsung Galaxy S7 launch where he talked about VR content on the social network.

High-end virtual reality is slowly becoming a reality thanks to devices such as the HTC Vive, announced at MWC with a price of $799 (or approximately Rs. 54,900) and the Oculus Rift, which you can buy for $599 (approximately Rs. 39,500).

The high price means that it's going to take a while before these types of headsets become a mass-market product, but as we've argued before - mobile VR is going to drive adoption of the technology, at least in the short run.

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And from the news that's already coming out of MWC it's clear that the phone companies see this too. Mobile phone sales are slowing - even Apple's - and regular updates to specifications aren't the answer.

That's why LG rolled out its own VR headset and 360-degree camera for creating VR content. Samsung already has the Gear VR headset, and it announced the Gear 360 Camera that is quite similar.

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(Also see: MWC 2016: Camera Boost, Virtual Reality for New LG, Samsung Flagships)

VR brings in the instant wow factor - even people who are technologically averse have (in our experience) shown an interest in looking around in simple VR experiences. It hugely redefines the experience of using a smartphone, and that's what's been missing from phones of late.

For now, content is mostly 360-degree photos, and Google Cardboard content such as spherical videos. As more and more headsets are shipped, expect the quality and quantity of content to rise up as well, while accessories such as the Gear 360 Camera will also help in the proliferation of amateur content through platforms like YouTube and Facebook.

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And that's how VR becomes more than just the flavour of the month - for many people, the mobile phone is now the primary means of media consumption. The downside is that the screen size is a limitation. That's partly why our phones have steadily become so oversized and unwieldy - it's a fair trade-off for a 'big-screen' experience.

Companies like Lenovo are already betting on this (as highlighted in its 'TheatreMax' ad presently on TV in India), as are LeEco and others. VR has a long term use case that starts with watching movies and will go beyond that as people become familiar with the technology, and it can get people talking thanks to the instant wow factor.

These are things that a new processor and more RAM simply can't accomplish anymore. So it's not surprising really, that this is shaping up to be the year of VR, and that move is being driven by mobile phones.

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Gopal Sathe is the Editor of Gadgets 360. He has covered technology for 15 years. He has written about data use and privacy, and its use in politics. He has also written extensively about the latest devices, video games, and startups in India. Write to gopal@ndtv.com or get in touch on Twitter through his handle @gopalsathe with tips. More
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