Smartphone Virtual Reality Problems Were Just Solved. Here’s How…

Sure, Google Cardboard and Gear VR works great for an easy, portable, Virtual Reality (VR) viewer/experience…but what do we do about simple interactive/motion controls to interact with your mobile device in VR? As I said in a recent episode of my science and tech podcast, Sovryn Tech, these solutions were coming in short order, along with an overall improvement of the VR experience that a mobile phone can deliver.

And now both solutions have been announced, and will be released in 2016. And, in my opinion, they’re pretty simple and elegant, and won’t really require any kind of “paradigm shift” or “quantum leap of technology” (how’s that for buzzwords?) to implement. They’re all easily adaptable to the present mobile market.

Samsung’s Rink Motion Controller

At CES 2016, the announcement of the Rink motion controller for VR went under the radar, which is shocking to me. While I think Samsung has been relying on brand recognition to be able to sell it’s terribly uninteresting and stale flagship smartphones, what it has been doing in the Gear VR space has been nothing less than revolutionary. The Gear VR headsets have been using Oculus (as in, Facebook’s owned Oculus Rift) technology for years now, and has actually been shipping it out to pleased consumers before Oculus has even shipped it’s own hardware to anyone that matters. That’s no small achievement.rink

And now to get even more ahead of the game, Samsung has created a simple over-the-hands controller called “Rink” that may just beat Oculus to the punch again (no pun intended). And these controllers are so simple and beautiful in their implementation, you could easily carry them around. Also, if you judge by the typing experience that they supposedly could offer, I think the Rink motion controllers have lots of potential outside of VR. Take a look:rink2

See what I mean? There’s all kinds of wild implementations for these kinds of motion controllers. But within VR, certainly it is easy to imagine how simple hand gestures will allow for very fluid controls within the VR experience. And if the Rink controllers have a haptic feedback system built into them, that will make for all the more impressive an implementation. While using head-motion tracking and “pause on this to activate” controls and commands have worked well for mobile VR like Samsung’s GearVR and Google Cardboard, Rink will be a welcome addition to make VR all the more viable on mobile platforms, and will go a long way to showing that–as I believe–VR is going to “happen” in the mobile space long before it does in the PC space…and perhaps even be it’s primary infrastructure.

How Latency and Other Issues Will Be Solved in Mobile Virtual Reality

Here comes another serious issue with mobile VR that is often brought up, and is usually used as justification for why Google Cardboard and GearVR are not to be thought of as long term VR platforms or as viable. Recently, Google announced that it will be releasing a Project Tango smartphone. For that don’t know, Project Tango is a sensor package developed by Google that they have tested out on tablets in the past that allow for greater 3-dimensional depth perception, and overall motion perception. Project Tango was used to map the inside of rooms, along with other interesting use cases. But bottom line, Project Tango is a set of superior mobile device sensors. Privacy issues aside (and don’t put those issues aside lightly, as Google is collecting all of that sensor information from Project Tango), Project Tango in a smartphone package could easily solve the motion sickness problem that Google Cardboard and GearVR presently creates, and also can solve the overall latency problems with mobile-based VR. Not many are addressing this potential with Project Tango in tech journalism, but I think it’s entirely possible.

The main thing that people are missing with what Project Tango can do for Google Cardboard and mobile VR in general is that, again, Project Tango was designed to map rooms and other large areas. I’m theorizing that a smartphone-enabled, Project Tango-enhanced mobile VR experience could allow you to walk around a room while wearing a VR headset…without running into anything in the room or running into anyone! Since you’re going to have a 3D real-time mapping of the room you’re in due to Project Tango, it could easily create VR artifacts that would be represented in your VR experience and thus prevent you from harm or from running into someone else (or allowing you to keep from someone “messing with you” while you’re in your VR experience and they’re not).

Google is working with Lenovo to release this Project Tango smartphone, but other than it being released in 2016 and that the phone will cost less than $500 (!), there are no other details.

The Future of Virtual Reality

Both of these coming releases, the Lenovo Project Tango smartphone and Samsung Rink motion controller, have the potential to make the mobile VR experience far superior to the PC VR experience. And not just from a price standpoint, which is a huge issue on the PC side of things, as to get into at least the Oculus Rift on PC is going to cost you $600 for the headset itself, and at least another $2000 to buy a PC that can make use of it (many people have taken the Oculus-compatibility test with their very new gaming PC’s, and have found that even these new computers aren’t compatible). There’s the possibility that Project Tango, and the simple Rink controllers, could offer a superior VR experience in every way other than graphics. It’s true, a smartphone is not going to match the graphical prowess of a full-on PC, but as many that have tested VR will tell you: It’s not about the quality of the graphics, it’s about the quality of the experience. And I think the mobile ecosystem with these new developments in place can deliver the greater experience, and do it cheaper, and in a more desirable form factor in an infrastructure that everyone already has laid out the big money for: smartphones.

The only thing that needs to happen now is for these technologies to get opened up outside of Samsung and Google’s purview. Then we can all take advantage of it (and maybe even implement it into the Dark Android Project). I’m very excited about VR, and if you are, too, we were just given a couple more reasons to get very excited about it.

Carpe lucem!