Mobile VR Is the Future, Mobile VR Is Not the Future

I work on A-Frame, a web framework for building virtual reality (WebVR) experiences. A-Frame allows developers to easily build scenes with HTML that work across platforms (e.g., Vive, Rift, Cardboard, GearVR, desktop). The high accessibility enables developers with just a bit of HTML knowledge, a smartphone, and a Cardboard to get started playing with VR.

Developers in the VR community are bullish on mobile VR platforms such as Cardboard, GearVR, or Daydream. Mobile VR today is enticing for many reasons: low cost, headsets sold, number of users, ubiquity of smartphones. We often hear about millions of Cardboards and that mobile VR is the future.

However on the A-Frame team, we focus all of our efforts on room scale VR platforms (i.e., Vive). If you're developing a tool or platform, or you're wanting to do meaningful experiments and innovations, then you'd best be developing for the high-end.

What is Mobile VR?

Common disputes around mobile vs. room scale VR come about as a lack of alignment in understanding what mobile VR actually means:

  • Does mobile VR mean a smartphone?
  • Does mobile VR mean untethered?
  • Does mobile VR mean no positional tracking?

The answer is that there is no absolute definition. Room scale VR platforms will eventually become wireless. Mobile VR platforms will eventually have positional tracking and controllers. Room scale will become more mobile, mobile will become more room scale. The lines between the two platforms will blur.

For the sake of discussion of the future platforms of VR, I propose another definition to distinguish between platforms:

  • VR platforms with positional tracking and controllers
  • VR platforms without positional tracking and controllers

As of today, the former is what we refer to "room scale" and the latter what we refer to as "mobile".

Given one definition, mobile VR is the future: VR will become wireless, untethered, self-contained.

But at the same time, given another definition, mobile VR is not the future: VR will not be powered by smartphones that have no positional tracking nor 6DoF controllers.

The State of Mobile VR Today

What mobile VR means today is:

  • No positional tracking
  • No 6DOF tracked hand controllers
  • Rotational (3DOF) tracking only

These ingredients do not make a compelling VR platform that will provide long-term value to people.

Yes, there are millions of Cardboards and GearVRs in the wild. But a large chunk of those Cardboards were free (from magazines, newspapers, Google, or DIY), and a large chunk of those GearVRs were also free (bundled with Samsung phones or given away by Oculus). And now I suppose they're all gathering dust on shelves

  • Mobile VR As We Know It Will Cease to Exist

  • A Crippled Platform

  • Exploring and Innovating Meaningful UX and Patterns

  • The Story Behind the Numbers

  • Compelling to the Industry, Not Compelling to Users

  • Target Room Scale, Wait for the Lines to Fuzz, Be There

  • What It Means for A-Frame


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