VR vs. The Mobile Divide

Kevin E on films, sausages and the strange situation where the smartphone can be praised and condemned.

It’s funny how things work out isn’t it? Things are never quite the same no matter how you figure it out.

So let me set a scene for you: parents raises two sons, or daughters, it doesn’t matter which in this instance so long as they are the same gender in this case. They are highly fortunate to have steady, stable, let us say picture book upbringing. The parents love them the same, they treat them the same, they raise them the same. They go to the same school, take the same courses in the same classes. They have equal the amount of attention and equal the amount of possibility, positivity and opportunity in their lives.

So tell me reader, does this mean that Sibling A and Sibling B are the same?

The answer is no, of course not.

There are always differences in people, the personalities aren’t cloned. Each is their own person. Such is the same for the two technologies we cover most on VRFocus – virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). Two, maybe not sibling technologies but technological cousins at the very least. They too have a number of similarities, cut from the same cloth, albeit with a different pattern, and probably a different pair of scissors too. Perhaps those crinkle-cut ones you only used to see in secondary school art class and on no other place in the known universe.

Yet they are very different technologies too, each providing their own solution to different problems, utilising alternate methods, and very often the supporters of VR do not think on things quite the same way as the supporters of AR either – and vice-versa. After all, how many articles, features and hot takes have you seen online that declares one the end of the other? AR and VR have killed each other off more times than two duellists caught in a Groundhog Day style time loop. Or maybe it’s all just Live Die Repeat/Edge of Tomorrow except with Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt and everybody else is replaced by a slightly funny looking headset.

So, bearing all of this in mind it is perhaps not that big a surprise that when we look at both VR and AR the general response to one of the main platforms is not the same. Yet at the same time you can’t help but furrow your brow and wonder why that is. I’m talking about, as if the title of this week’s column hadn’t already given it away, about mobile.

Yes, mobile. You will have no doubt seen or heard, hopefully via VRFocus.com (please like, comment, subscribe, etc.), is that AR is very much in the ascendency at the moment; and deservedly so. There is as always lots going on with AR but this has, much like Pokémon GO did last year, seemingly been wiped into irrelevance by a juggernaut announcement.  I am of course talking about ARKit (or ‘ARK it’ depending on who you listen to, but trust me, it’s the former).  It’s been something of a revelation bringing developers from the bedroom to the boardroom an easy-to-use toolkit to bring whatever they imagine to life in AR.

What’s been shown off so far in various demos has, to be frank, been bloody impressive. Be it a SpaceX rocket coming in to land on a drone ship, versions of facial recognition, measuring a distance and acting as a virtual tape measure, subtly altering the look of a building, or conjuring into existence a giant can of Red Bull. Which presumably wouldn’t give you wings, but more send you to a hospital. It’s also gotten people very excited.

Now contrast this excitement about using AR on mobile to what you often see with regard to VR on mobile. Mobile VR is often much maligned, thought of as inferior – which of course it is in comparison to the power behind console/PC VR – but smartphone-based VR content is often all lumped together just as “bad”.  You’ve likely seen comments here, there and everywhere that even its mere existence is somehow a detriment to VR. It is (and this is particularly good one) also said by some to not be “real” VR. Said in much the same way some gamer on a message board says “You’re not a REAL fan of ____” because of some personal checklist of what a fan should like/dislike and have done in their life.

Whilst AR on mobile is rightly getting praised, mobile VR is almost the opposite. Not at the beginning of its road as with AR and the various forthcoming more affordable AR head-mounted displays (HMDs) but with the Gear VR as the elder statesman of the modern generation of mainstream VR HMDs.  Mobile is still VR’s biggest platform (sorry PC/console fans), yet there’s no one out there really championing what Mobile VR does. The good things being developed and how things are improving. Whenever a story of a new Gear VR or Google Daydream game or piece of software comes out there’s always this weird feeling like you can tell some people are rolling their eyes and giving a dismissing ‘hmmph’ noise. Yet Gear VR and Daydream are helping push that quality baseline upwards much as Sony, Oculus and HTC are working to push their line upwards.

It’s a never ending developmental push to moving things up and make things better.

AltspaceVR-Daydream-RL1 (2)Perhaps then AR’s mobile-centred praise is more to do with it being far more difficult to experience an AR HMD.  Like comparing a label branded food to a gourmet equivalent you can’t tell whether or not the more expensive option is truly better if you can’t sample it. With VR you can, and relatively easily nowadays especially in comparison to even early 2016. But if you try an supermarket own brand sausage, then try some pork and apple sausage with herbs and spices and made from select cuts- and you prefer it – it doesn’t mean Sainsbury’s or Tesco or whoever should stop making sausages entirely. Them doing that allows more people to try sausages. People might even prefer the taste of the ‘simpler’ sausage for all you know.

My point is that maybe VR aficionados should give some love, or at least some nodding respect, to mobile on VR; and maybe AR aficionados should try not to forget how mobile was the forerunner for the better quality AR that is being praised in the years to come.

And there’s no need to be a silly sausage about it.

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