There is no longer any doubt in my mind;
Sony wins Round One of the VR Wars*
So lets write the story of how this plays out,
across the next 18-36 months:
0. Samsung launches the pre-game show on Black Friday 2015 with the GearVR, at $99 the only genuinely viable wide-reaching consumer product on the horizon. Gets top pick and front page coverage from the Wall Street Journal. Never mind that it requires a $900 smartphone; that’s financed on contract, and consumers are already used to the new phone pay-per-month cycle. GearVR actually swings a measurable percentage of consumers from the Apple iPhone ecosystem to the Samsung Galaxy side. Apple watches from the sidelines.
0a. GearVR sells out inside of 48 hours on all available channels : Amazon, Best Buy, and Samsung.com retail. Demand far outstrips supply. Samsung scrambles to amp up the manufacturing line in time for Christmas. GearVR is the baseline of consumer VR. While cardboard is the Yugo, GearVR is the Honda: reliable, comfortable, and pleasing. Those who have cardboard as their first VR experience end up as “meh”. Those who have GearVR become the first genuine acolytes of the Church of VR… willing to spend $1000s in the years to come to acquire and experience the latest games and apps. It is of special note that one cannot experience GearVR without first entering a valid credit card… “One Nod Purchases” become A Thing.
1. HTC quietly launches the Vive for Christmas 2015. A handful of hardcore gamers purchase and install the system. Technically and experientially, it is the Ferrari of VR experiences today; High performance, spine-tingling, top-of-the-line, and just ever so slightly tempermental and fragile.
2. Oculus Rift is up next, with their consumer launch in March 2016. The press is deafening. Time, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, People USA Today, CNN, Fox…. it seems that VR is everywhere….even though it is really just the tippy top of the VR iceberg. Oculus makes significant inroads into the consumer market, but unlike the GearVR, with its hidden costs of the 2 year contract smartphone, Oculus users have to really swallow the full retail price of a spanking new $1000 PC plus another $250 for the headset… A luxury item for the elite, and those hardcore gamers who already have the PC juice. Initial Oculus games line-up is awesome, but the limitations of a single camera in a swivel chair, and the frustrations of “frustrum collision” while in ecstatic states of Presence, start to jade the first VR faithful.
3. Sony PSVR makes rapid adjustments to its launch line-up based on early market feedback from Oculus, and in June 2016, is unable to keep up with demand for its total VR solution:
  • dual accurate hands input,
  • a percieved large free-to-move “play space”, or tracking volume
  • a well-polished line-up of launch titles,
  • the only true “plug and play” solution on the market
  • an ultra-easy UX to get from your TV to your HMD
  • a high resolution screen matching the Vive’s,
  • an unprecedented 120fps framerate, deeply aiding presence,
    and most importantly:
  • an existing user base of 30 million consumers who
    already own the base hardware platform, i.e. a PS4
4. PlayStation owners relentlessly tease Oculus owners in online forums about their ability to use both hands in-game, and the perceived reality of a larger play space, even though its really only a game of  how close the player is sitting to the camera. The fact that PSVR users are on a couch 8′ from the sensor, and that Oculus players are on a swivel chair 3′ from the sensors, actually makes a significant experiential difference.
5. Oculus responds, with their 2-camera and 2-hands Oculus Touch, but later than expected, only launching in November 2016 as all the bugs are finally worked out. At long last, high-end Oculus rigs have the power and capability of the Vive… if you have $2k to throw around and a dedicated VR playroom.
6. Christmas 2016 is the Round One Showdown, with consumers and parents electing to spend their hard earned dollars on their first serious VR systems. Consumer Reports has a cover story on “Your First VR Rig”.
7. In January 2017, the receipts are tallied, and on an installed user basis, Sony wins hands down. The game development community is caught off guard. EA, Activision, and RockStar games all make hasty and real announcements for major franchise VR releases in 2016.
8. A division forms between hardcore VR users, casual VR users, and nomadic VR users. Sony owns the living room, Oculus owns the dorm rooms and man-caves, and Samsung owns the business and entertainment markets.
7. In 2017, Magic Leap launches its mobile AR platform. Once again, people are shocked and amazed. The experience is amazing. The price makes it a serious luxury item.
8. In 2018, Apple launches its AR platform, and Samsung breaks from its Oculus contracts. Sony and Oculus pray that they’ve secured significant beachheads to thwart the Apple juggernaut. The press pretends that AR has just been invented. But that’s the next part of the story…
———————-
*Conclusion & Caveat:
While there is only one “first place winner” in any race, in the real world of business, there are always multiple winners. Apple and Samsung both do well in smartphones. Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo all do well in videogames. AND this is only Round One. As AR enters the market, as traction expands well beyond gaming… VR and AR are a tidal wave of technological evolution, encompassing not just gaming and consumers, but broader technology industry and enterprise. The only undisputed winner here are consumers, who benefit from the entertainment bounty provided by these goliaths battling it out in the marketplace.
 
Voila.

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