Mobile VR is dead

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
Mobile VR is dead
Just three years ago, at MWC 2016, thousands of the most influential tech journalists from all across the globe put on a pair of Samsung's Gear VR mobile virtual reality glasses to watch a visually stunning reveal of what was supposed to be the future of technology: VR powered by your phone!

A few minutes later, as the video ended, the crowds saw that while they were completely immersed in the virtual reality, Facebook's chief Mark Zuckerberg had appeared on stage to give a rare public appearance to promote mobile VR.

This was three years ago and then it almost seemed that everyone would soon be walking around with VR glasses powered by their phones on the streets. It did not turn out this way. In fact, within three years most of us have successfully forgotten about mobile VR. It is completely and utterly dead.

How did Samsung, Google and Facebook get it all so wrong?


How did tech giants like Samsung, Google and Facebook get mobile VR so wrong and how can they learn from this mistake?


First, though, let's make one important distinction: virtual reality itself is a concept that has its merits, especially when paired with serious developers that provide experiences that are immersive, engaging and visually impressive. Those are things that come together in devices like the HTC Vive or PlayStation VR, which people actually enjoy and use in real life. VR gaming is still a niche, but one that is quite interesting. Contrast this to VR powered by your phone in gadgets like the Samsung Gear VR, which is... quite dead. There is no good-quality content and users have collectively turned their back and successfully forgotten about that.


So why did mobile VR fail in the first place? It seemed to have everything: Samsung was giving away Gear VRs for free by the thousands, but even if you did not get a free one, you could purchase the glasses at a very affordable price. Facebook was on board, Google was on board and many other big names as well. The two missing ingredients: powerful enough hardware and quality game developers.

It's all about mobile games


Here is the thing: like it or not games are the most profitable class of applications out there. It is what's driving both the majority of users to app stores and subsequently what drives developers. Mobile VR never had any great games. There were many titles, but none the scale of say Fortnite or Pokemon Go, or anything that would truly make users wear those dorky glasses every single day. The reason for that might have been the weak software or quite simply, that the quality developers were all focused on getting the real VR games right for the true gaming platforms like the aforementioned Playstation VR.

And even if there were some really great games, it all goes against the very idea of mobile gaming which is built around the convenience of being able to play games on the go. A giant virtual reality headset with the added weight of a phone to it is not something that even the nerdiest geeks would wear in public, especially for a short time like that subway ride where phone gaming supposedly shines. There was something wrong at the conceptual stage of a mobile VR experience.

And if not games, would street view in virtual reality be able to convince anybody to buy a VR headset? I doubt that.

Add to that a terrible launch campaign where Mark Zuckerberg seemed to want to monetize on the tragedy of a massive hurricane, and a bunch of other mishaps, and we get to where we are today.

What about AR?


Will augmented reality and those fancy-pants rumored Apple glasses revive the field, or will they be something completely different? It's early to say, but one thing seems certain: mobile VR is dead, and that's probably not a big loss.

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35 Comments

1. burkett375

Posts: 51; Member since: Dec 19, 2017

Throw it in the corner with 3D TVs, BetaMax, and Segways...

5. midan

Posts: 2884; Member since: Oct 09, 2017

3D could have been great, they ruined the markets with very high movie prices, 3D movie shouldn't have been more pricey than 2D version. I have maybe 5 3D movies and all of them i bought from very high discount. Same problem is currently happening for physical 4K movies, way too pricey.

15. Atechguy0

Posts: 918; Member since: Aug 03, 2018

When a lot of users had crappy resolution displays, then VR or AR is crappy. With VR or AR headsets that use mobile smartphones, it splits the screen in two. So now your resolution of say 1920x1080 is really 960x1080. An iPhone 6, 6S, 7, and 8 only have a resolution of 1334x750, which split in two turns out to be 667x750. Holy 70's pixelation batman. It's no wonder why those Mira Prism and Mira 2 AR headsets failed. They only supported Apple's low resolution iPhones. Talk about a recipe for disaster. QHD or QHD+ is really good with VR. That's the resolutions in Microsofts MR headsets, and Daydream, or Gear VR headsets. For years Apple and iPhone users would say nobody can see past the pixel density of 326 DPI. Yeah, nobody believes those morons these days. You need fast refresh screens with high resolutions, CPUs, GPUs, and RAM. Over the years mobile SoCs have gotten faster, even the latest mobile SD 855 SoCs from Qualcomm support quad channel LPDDR4 2133 MHz, and it even supports 8k VR. It's the first and only mobile to do so. Not to mention all the other firsts it's bringing to the table. It can drive a QHD+ VR display at a sustainable 90 fps or higher. Not even Apple's A12X SoC could drive that, forget the much slower A12 that is found in the iPhones. I would say it's still in its infancy, and it didn't fail.

16. Atechguy0

Posts: 918; Member since: Aug 03, 2018

Victor at the end you mention AR, but a lot of AR technology is really VR technology. So if VR is dead in your eyes, the AR is dead as well. But like I said earlier VR is still evolving and in its infancy. There is new 6doF VR headsets. Even Lenovo's Mirage Solo now has AR and 6dof support. Victor look at the technology first, then you wouldn't be creating ignorant articles. Sorry ignorant is a little harsh. More like the article you wrote is showing the world that you did no research on the topic.

30. midan

Posts: 2884; Member since: Oct 09, 2017

AR works without any headset or glasses, AR is very alive unlike mobile VR which was DOA because it needs extra gear. People just aren't interested, Companies really tried but it was pointless since day one.

31. midan

Posts: 2884; Member since: Oct 09, 2017

haha, i guess we found sgodsell

19. Rager722 unregistered

Also no one buys physical copies of movies anymore. It's being replaced with streaming.

26. ullokey

Posts: 178; Member since: Jul 28, 2015

speak for yourself

27. midan

Posts: 2884; Member since: Oct 09, 2017

I disagree, if i rent movie i rent digital copy, if i buy movie, i buy physical copy.

2. cmdacos

Posts: 4208; Member since: Nov 01, 2016

The power needed for good games is not something you can do on a mobile vr experience. Vive and PSVR own that space with some very good games. The latest Ace Combat for PSVR is really good.

3. midan

Posts: 2884; Member since: Oct 09, 2017

Mobile VR was DOA because no-one want to wear those awkward glasses or heavy headsets, it's not about content, it's the vr tech itself which isn't ready for prime time. Let's get back when you can put all that VR tech inside size of 3D glasses. Atleast it needs that before taken seriously.

4. Ninetysix

Posts: 2964; Member since: Oct 08, 2012

sgodsell :( QQ

6. mynameisPZee

Posts: 31; Member since: Jan 05, 2015

Can someone Kindly check on "sgodsell" or whatever his new account name is, don't want nothing happening to him...lol

32. midan

Posts: 2884; Member since: Oct 09, 2017

check the very long post above :)

7. Nionx

Posts: 203; Member since: Oct 30, 2017

Can't speak for anyone else but I use my Gear VR regularly. It's just a fun getaway when I'm on trips and I have to wait on whomever to return. I rather enjoy the virtual escape, just bought some new bundles to further enjoy my experience.

11. Leo_MC

Posts: 7432; Member since: Dec 02, 2011

You have got to be kidding! Usually, when people go on trips they visit sites, enjoy the local habits, culture, atmosphere etc. But not you; you go on a... virtual escape...

21. cmdacos

Posts: 4208; Member since: Nov 01, 2016

The time management police is here. Nionx, be sure to do as you're told by Leo... Leo wtf do you care what he does? Get off your soapbox princess

24. Leo_MC

Posts: 7432; Member since: Dec 02, 2011

I’m not telling him what to do, I was just fascinated by the habit of going on a “virtual escape” while on trips (I would go play with the dolphins or ear a delicious local cookie, but hey, it must be more fun to sit on a bench and put on a helmet; luckily I’ll never find out).

23. japkoslav

Posts: 1507; Member since: Feb 19, 2017

You do not travel often, do you? Believe me, if you would and it would not be just for holiday with a family, you might bore your ass easily off. Novelty wears off pretty quickly for some. Not to mention yeah rock! Yeah, even bigger rock ... whoopty f**king do!

25. Leo_MC

Posts: 7432; Member since: Dec 02, 2011

I always do what I like (within my financial power). I have been traveling to boring places, but you can find something fun to do even there - if you don’t like the rocks, you can always talk to local people and find out interesting things about the place.

8. L0n3n1nja

Posts: 1559; Member since: Jul 12, 2016

Needing to shell out $100 for a new headset with every phone killed it for me.

9. sefus207

Posts: 1; Member since: Jan 28, 2019

Shouldn’t be more like phone vr is dead, because isn’t standalone vr good mobile vr, you just wont need a phone or pc to power it. You buy the headset charge up the batteries put it on your head and turn it on, and that’s that.

10. osterrich21

Posts: 186; Member since: Apr 14, 2017

I agree plentiful with the title of the report.VR is childish

12. Leo_MC

Posts: 7432; Member since: Dec 02, 2011

There were some dudes that were always telling me that my (then) iPhone 7 was bad, because I couldn’t do vr. I was always telling them that it’s not what a phone is meant for, but they kept talking about how they vr all day with their gazillion pixels. Well, maybe vr with the phone is not dead, maybe it’s just that those dudes have used it all by now =))).

13. clarity

Posts: 56; Member since: Jun 19, 2017

7 is a great phone, but the display is definitely a let down in today's standards.

14. ImperialDynamics

Posts: 84; Member since: Nov 30, 2012

I don't agree with the article. It says mobile VR is dead. But what exactly is mobile VR? If it is Gear VR, Google Daydream or similar solutions that require you to slide your phone in a headset, then yes, maybe it is dead. But if mobile VR also consists of standalone headsets like the Oculus Go and the Oculus Quest then not only is it not dead, it's just getting started!!

17. JRPG_Guy

Posts: 144; Member since: Jan 13, 2019

Was it ever alive?

18. GoTstan

Posts: 386; Member since: Jul 25, 2015

My chief complaint was that with every new galaxy S#, came a new vr gear headset. I got a note4 at the time bc that was the year gearVR kicked off and the N4 was one of the first phones supported. It was hard to find that headset, and the following years note5 gear headset was not compatible. Samsung should've designed them so at least 3 different S's and notes worked on one headset...... I think mobile VR still has a chance. Samsung needs to make one headset, and make it work for a huge list of phones. That, and of course, software. Can you watch 3d movies on these headsets like you can with psvr, rift, vive, wmr?

20. odachek

Posts: 123; Member since: Sep 01, 2012

The screen resolution is not there yet.

22. kiko007

Posts: 7493; Member since: Feb 17, 2016

I mean... was it ever truly alive?

* Some comments have been hidden, because they don't meet the discussions rules.

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