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Mobile VR didn't work out, but Oculus Go's accessibility is just what the sector needs

Columnist Jon Jordan jumps on the new wave of VR hype
Product: Oculus Go | Publisher: Oculus | Format: Android, iPhone, Oculus
Oculus Go Oculus, thumbnail 1
Welcome to the latest in our series of Pocket Gamer columns. We're taking the best games writers in the industry and giving them a platform. Veteran journalist Jon Jordan is here each week examining the trends shaping your mobile games scene. This week he's enjoying the accessibility of his new Oculus Go.

There are many reasons for the success of the mobile games sector.

There are the games themselves, of course.

But, perhaps more importantly, there are what we might call the structural or inherent advantages of the smartphone itself.

One of these is portability, for unlike other portable devices - tablets, laptops etc - mobiles are small enough to be always with us. More importantly, they combine this availability with instant accessibility.

In this way, playing a game, taking a selfie, posting on social media, finding a date, checking our bank account, etc. are merely a swipe away, and hence have become ubiquitous elements of daily life for billions of people.

This has been combined with an ever-growing selection of inbuilt technologies, ranging from an array of cameras, to GPS, NFC, Bluetooth and Wifi. No wonder the rise of the phone has killed off dedicated products ranging from car sat-navs to point-and-click cameras.

Know your limits

Yet while the mobile phone maybe the ultimate technological penknife, there are limits to its flexibility.

One example was its attempted role as 'My First Virtual Reality Headset'.

Personally, I’ve always been conflicted about VR. It's clearly a highly immersive and transformative technology, but one that requires an incredibly smooth user experience and hardware that isn’t yet mass-market-friendly.

But perhaps the ubiquity of the smartphone could bridge that gap?

At least, that was the thinking behind a wave of headset initiatives, ranging from Google Cardboard at the lowest end to Samsung's Gear VR and Google's Daydream at the other.

It's out with Google Daydream and on with Oculus Go

And, to some extent, these attempts worked. For a nominal sum, people could slip their phones into a headset and get some idea about how VR worked.

For me, Cardboard was a stepping stone to Daydream, but ultimately neither experience proved strong enough to be more than an occasional experiment. Perversely, I actually enjoyed Cardboard more, maybe because I expected less.

With Daydream, fiddling around with earphones, taking the phone out of the headset to select content and then putting it back in again (and then taking it out again because I inadvertently tapped the screen putting it in again etc. etc.) just became too great an inconvenience.

Go, go, Oculus

Oculus Go solves all these problems, however.

Thanks to its internal screen and inbuilt headphones, you just switch it on, put it on your head, pick up your controller and you're off.

Of course, as hardcore Vive and Rift owners point out, Oculus Go doesn't provide the full VR experience in terms of tracking head and body movement in six degrees of freedom. It can't run the same high end games either.

After all, it's a standalone $200/£200 headset, not a +$400 headset that also requires a +$1,000 PC to function. But, the wider point is that it just works.

Oculus Go (top) - no phone or headphones required

So, for a VR sector in need of some positive news and anything that can increase its active user base by a couple of million and yes - lots more accessibility - Oculus Go about as good as it gets.

And I get to clear out my drawer of the half dozen mobile VR headsets I've accumulated over the years. It's a win-win situation all round. 

If this column has given you food for thought, share your comments below and bookmark Jon Jordan's page for more of the same next Monday. Remember to also check out words of wisdom and mirth from experienced games journalists Susan Arendt and Harry Slater each week.

Reviewer photo
Jon Jordan 7 May 2018
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