HTC’s Global Product Manager on Virtual Reality’s ‘Race to the Bottom’ • TechCrunch

HTC’s Global Product Manager on Virtual Reality’s ‘Race to the Bottom’ • TechCrunch

HTC’s Global Product Manager on Virtual Reality’s ‘Race to the Bottom’ • TechCrunch

It was the year of the XR. But then, they all seem to be, these days. Strong attendances from Meta, Magic Leap, Sony and HTC led the way at this year’s CES, with hundreds of startups taking over. I’ve been dazzled by a few demos, but ultimately wondered what form true AR/VR integration might ultimately take – if it ever does.

There’s something about the technology that makes it feel warm and welcoming after a long day on your feet, the gland weaving its way through the sights of Las Vegas. Strap on a helmet and feel the living room floor slip for a minute or two. I believe that most people who try these technologies in this context succeed, but there are currently far too many barriers to getting these products in most people’s faces.

A good RV is always prohibitively expensive. The content is also quite limited. Both of these are moving in the right direction, sure, but there’s a big open question as to whether they’re doing so at a fast enough pace to reach critical mass in this iteration of the perennial hype cycle.

HTC’s approach is still baby steps. It’s the recognition that – despite years of hearing to the contrary – true mainstream adoption is still a long way off. In the meantime, that means focusing on a target audience. It means being okay with remaining a relative niche – a far cry from the Taiwanese maker’s high-flying days as a phone maker – while crumbling like those big boulders of granite that stand between it and the mainstream.

For HTC, the Vive XR Elite was the star of the show. At $1,099, it’s a few hundred dollars cheaper than Meta’s Quest Pro, but still way too expensive to see it as any sort of breakthrough for the industry as a whole.

“It’s for an audience that wants an enhanced experience,” said Shen Ye, the company’s senior director, global product manager, in an interview with TechCrunch, “gamers and just people who want a good, comfortable headset.” .

At this point in the evolutionary process, it might be unfair to set the bar for success on an XR headset in every household. Leap Motion’s well-publicized struggles are a decent barometer here. Especially since the company has turned into a business. There’s a lot of money to be made selling products to companies – certainly more than it currently seems to be doing for pure consumer games.

HTC has undoubtedly made impressive gains here. Can’t say I spent much time in the XR Elite, but the headset was as comfortable and attractive as advertised. It’s a piece of the puzzle that has long seemed like an afterthought for manufacturers. It’s a weird thing to overlook in a piece of hardware designed to sit on your face for long periods of time.

Picture credits: HTC

Ye likens potential buyers to gamers patiently – and frustratingly – waiting for a pro version of Nintendo’s popular convertible console to arrive.

“People still want a Switch Pro to this day,” he told TechCrunch. “They want something portable, but they want something better. Mobile VR is currently like that. There is no decent upgrade. People who want a good experience are stuck with these down-rushing products.

The “race to the bottom” he refers to here is precisely the main talking point related to mainstream adoption: price. The market has been flooded with low-cost VR solutions for years, from Google Cardboard/Daydream to Samsung Gear VR to thousands of products and companies you’ve never heard of. It can reasonably be argued that these things ultimately did more harm than good. They’ve done a good job of putting a version of virtual reality in many hands, but when that experience isn’t particularly good, it’s easy to imagine those people being reluctant to pay a whole lot more money for the real thing. virtual in the future.

“I think one day there will be much cheaper headsets,” Ye says of HTC’s efforts. “But right now, we’re focused on how we can better drive the market to make it better, to be more inclusive, to have better experiences.”

One thing is certain: HTC is committed to virtual reality at a low level. Vive hardware and associated software/metaverse technologies are the company’s primary focus, as its phone business has slowed (remember last year’s “metaverse” phone, the Desire 22 Pro?). The future of the company depends on its ability to advance VR/XR. It can be difficult to cross a line, being all over a technology, while remaining pragmatic about the speed and scope of its potential growth.

Many in the industry are anticipating validation from Apple in particular. The hope is that the company will enter the AR or XR category with guns blazing, and the buzz will be a tide that lifts all boats.

“I think the nice thing about Apple coming in is that it’s not a social media company,” Ye says. “The giants who are really trying to disrupt are in this race to the bottom, making cheap headsets that they’re losing money. At the end of the day, what’s the cost of your personal data? We’re not a business social media. Our business model isn’t based on ad revenue, so that’s not something we do. We want to build good stuff.

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