Virtual Reality to Be Baked Right Into Android…with iOS Left In the Dust
If you’ve never read my thoughts about the future of Virtual Reality, I suggest you do so now. But in brief, mobile is “where it’s at”. Any of the hardware troubles presented by doing VR on a mobile platform–as compared to the plenty of horsepower for VR on multi-thousand dollar PCs–are being solved across the board. And manufacturers–even the smaller ones–are pushing VR hard. For example, Alcatel’s new OneTouch Idol 4S is going to ship in packaging that you can instantly fold into Google Cardboard. Obviously, on solving the problem of packaging waste, this is a damned clever idea, but it also speaks to how serious the Android platform is for VR. And Alphabet/Google, according to the Financial Times, is going to release an more serious VR headset for mobile devices to compete with *Scamsung’s (*purposeful spelling) Gear VR. Reports from the WSJ say that Google will also release a headset that doesn’t require a PC or a mobile device at all in 2016.
So the hardware is there or is coming fast, bottom line. But what about the software? Android is unique in that it has a multitude of VR-based apps. iOS has them, too, to be sure, but Android actually has multiple VR app repositories, not just the Google Cardboard repository. DodoVR (from DodoCase) and others are installable on Android, giving the consumer 3x to 4x the amount of VR options that any other platform offers.
But the if some reports are to be believed, the software end of VR is going to get a lot more serious. Apparently, Alphabet/Google is beginning to bake VR right into the Android operating system itself. What is this going to look like? Well, it’s all speculation at this point, but I think the gist is that when you are connecting to VR hardware, Android is going to transform into not just a simple presenter of VR apps (like the Google Cardboard app performs as), but will become a full operating system with the capabilities and advantages of VR taken to their logical conclusions and heights as a complete user interface.
My prediction is: Google is planning on Android being THE operating system for VR. Right now (minus SteamOS), most people are expecting Windows to be the system of (not so much) choice for Virtual Reality, largely due to the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift being based there. But I think the future of VR will belong to the platform/OS that “thinks” VR from the bottom up…and not just as an add-on. And Android is poised to do that, and fortunately–as the aforementioned Alcatel story proves–even the smallest Android device manufacturers recognize it.
Where does iOS stand in all of this? While Apple certainly had pioneered the touch interface with the iPhone, Apple has been behind the ball in implementing even touch and other physical developments in UI ever since. Granted, I actually appreciate that Apple has not put touchscreens on their laptops (I hate them on laptops, personally), many people love having touchscreens on their laptops, and they love the whole convertible-style machines like the Microsoft Surface series (which Apple is only now admitting is a “thing”, as seen by their iPad Pro…but it’s too little too late, the Surface is owning that whole space). And while Apple has applied for some VR patents, they are, as I said, behind the ball. And the Microsoft Surface vs. iPad Pro shows that the theory that “Apple does it last, but does it best” is no longer true. Apple can’t afford to let other companies be first now, otherwise they’ll have more failures like the Apple TV’s lack of market share that they lost to Roku and Amazon’s Fire TV. So unless Apple is secretly making massive changes to iOS, they are effectively decades behind what is already going on with Android.
SIDE NOTE: I’ve theorized that Microsoft is actually planning on a “premium” operating system in the future, for reasons other than Virtual Reality, of course…at least initially. Microsoft is banking heavy on its impressive HoloLens AR/MR technology, and so there’s the chance (which I hadn’t thought of until now) that they may also have a VR/AR/MR “at the core” operating system coming in the future. You can read more about it in my post: “Windows 10 is the New DOS“.
In the end, despite the horsepower that PCs can bring to the VR experience, that horsepower is there as a band-aid to give a great VR experience on top of a traditional OS that is already resource hungry and loaded with other demanding software. An operating system that is implementing VR from its very core has all the edge it needs, regardless if its on significantly less powerful hardware.
And it looks like that operating system is going to be Android.