At the end of the year, virtual reality headsets are finally taking off

The VR resurgence, which began in 2014 with Facebook’s takeover of the Oculus startup, combined with Sony’s announcement of the Morpheus project, will not have been as dazzling as its most enthusiastic fans would have liked.

The commercial launch of the Oculus Rift, followed by the HTC Vive and PlayStation VR in 2016 will end with an estimated success, but not explosive adoption by the general public. There are many reasons: bulky equipment, need to use a relatively powerful computer, limited experiences available, quite high price. The sinister birds had a lot of fun, but the area kept growing.

“The Christmas of virtual reality”
Five years later, virtual reality finally seems to have its moment. Or at least, this is the case of a very specific player in the market: Meta. Initiator of this resurrection, Mark Zuckerberg’s company has not stopped investing and innovating to convince the general public of the interest of this technology. Result: Your latest headset, the Oculus Quest 2, finally seems to have reached a tipping point. Affordable (329 euros), qualitative (resolution, tracking, software) and autonomous (does not require connection to another device to function), it had it all.

Its success was immediate when it premiered in October 2020, but it has taken a step forward this year. In demand during the holidays, both in the United States and Europe, its sales have exploded, to the point of making it the first product sold in the “video game” category on Amazon for weeks, even months. The Oculus mobile app (which serves as a “plug-in” to the headphones) even became number one on the App Store and Google Play Store in certain countries (especially the United States) on December 25.

The developers also do not hide their joy, this material success necessarily has an impact on the sales of applications. Many independents who believed in virtual reality and held on for years are finally seeing their efforts pay off. For example, the Golf + game had its record sales on December 24 and rose again the next day. Gorilla Tag, a popular game but not available on the Quest 2 main store (which requires extra effort to download), reached 350,000 users on December 26. There is no doubt that iconic titles like Resident Evil 4, Beat Saber or VRChat are enjoying even greater success.

A favorable context for the development of Quest 2
A phenomenon due in part to the exhaustion of traditional game consoles: PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X, but also to the new Switch Oled. Meta, who had suffered supply problems with the first Oculus Quest, managed to launch the Quest 2 in record time and by returning its components so that it would be cheaper, could be mass produced without problems, and it remains viable for several years thanks to a newer chip.

A tour de force that paid off during the holidays. With its unbeatable value for money and its library of quality and quantity saving software, the Quest 2 is arguably the highest value VR headset created to date.

Meta does not disclose its sales figures, but on November 16, Cristiano Amon, CEO of Qualcomm (which supplies the Quest 2’s Snapdragon XR2), had announced in passing that the Oculus Quest 2 represented 10 million sales. He was quick to clarify later that this was just an estimate based on independent studies, but Qualcomm necessarily and very accurately knows the number of units sold for the Quest 2 because it provides one of its components. Mainly, the accuracy of the information is not really in doubt.

10 million … and then?
Some will probably say 10 million units sold (or even 15, or 20), that’s not much. And that’s true when you compare it to the 70 million smartphones that Samsung sells each quarter. It will be remembered, however, that Apple sold only 11.5 million iPhones in 2008, but above all that the comparison of the two markets does not make much sense. The Oculus Quest 2 today primarily serves as a game console, although it can be used for meditating, exercising, watching movies, or socializing from a distance. From that point of view, he is a respectable competitor and should continue to be so.

However, and this was Meta’s bet from the beginning, the potential of virtual reality does not end there. The technology is also already finding its use in the professional world (for training in particular), and the company’s next headset (codename: Cambria) should expand its functionality to make it an alternative to the laptop for certain tasks, while develops your capabilities for augmented reality. C’est également ce que semble viser Apple, dont le casque est cetre dévoilé end 2022. D’autres constructeurs, qu’il s’agisse de ByteDance (editor of TikTok, qui a racheté Pico), Google or Samsung ont also des ongoing projects.

A prelude to augmented reality glasses
The smartphone does not have to be worried at the moment, because these helmets do not seek to compete with it. However, as technology continues to advance and available applications multiply (something that will accelerate now that the market is reaching a reasonable size), it is expected that they will consolidate as a new channel for entertainment, remote communication and communication. work, next to the consoles. , computers, televisions and famous smartphones.

They will also pave the way for other devices that are even more complex to design: augmented reality glasses that could be worn all day, and which, in turn, are clearly destined to replace smartphones in the long run. But that’s a different story.

Julien Bergounhoux @JBergounhoux

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