Several of Apple’s competitors are working on virtual or augmented reality projects, which is another factor that’s likely renewed Apple’s interest in the matter. Many competing technology companies have already launched VR/AR products or are planning to launch in the near future putting development ahead of whatever Apple may be working on.
Facebook – Oculus Rift
Oculus Rift is one of the first virtual reality headsets that will be available for consumers. It’s set to be released at the end of March, and is priced competitively at $599. The Oculus Rift debuted on Kickstarter in 2013 and has been under development since then, attracting a lot of attention and bringing virtual reality into the spotlight.
Worn over the head, the Oculus Rift has two 1080 x 1200 resolution OLED panels for each eye, both with a 90Hz refresh rate for an immersive visual experience that isn’t subjected to motion blurring or choppiness. It includes a gamepad, external infrared tracking sensors to track where a user’s head is positioned, and optional Oculus Touch motion controllers that can be tracked in 3D space with the sensors.
The Oculus Rift is going to be the first widely available VR headset, but it is still subject to some technical limitations. It is not a standalone device, requiring a connection to a Windows PC equipped with a powerful GPU, and it is targeted at the gaming market. Software must be specially created for the Oculus Rift using the Oculus SDK.
Oculus Rift users will also be able to watch both conventional movies and 360° videos, and there are social-oriented apps in development as Oculus is now owned by Facebook. Virtual worlds where people can interact with one another socially are one of the areas where there’s significant general consumer potential for devices like the Oculus Rift.
Should Apple go in a similar route, creating a gaming-focused headset, it could potentially resemble the Oculus Rift and be subject to some of the same restrictions, namely a connection to a powerful Mac.
Microsoft – HoloLens
Microsoft’s HoloLens is similar to Google Glass, with a head-worn pair of glasses that resemble safety goggles. The HoloLens incorporates a stereoscopic 3D display, spatial sound, a microphone array, a video camera, and sensors like an accelerometer, gyroscope, and magnetometer. It runs the Windows Holographic operating system, which allows people to interact with the HoloLens through gestures, eye movement, and voice.
The HoloLens combines both virtual and augmented reality, creating virtual objects Microsoft calls “holograms” that can be viewed and manipulated alongside real-world objects. Microsoft has showcased multiple use cases for the HoloLens, including an interactive version of Skype, an augmented reality first person shooter, an augmented reality version of Minecraft, a 3D modeling application for creating objects to be 3D printed, and human anatomy lesson.
Microsoft’s HoloLens has been attracting a lot of attention because of the way that it mixes virtual reality and augmented reality, going beyond typical augmented reality applications but without losing the benefit of real-world interaction. It has the potential to offer the best of both technologies, and Apple could potentially follow in Microsoft’s footsteps with a similar mixed reality product if it does opt to go for a full wearable.
Google – Cardboard
Google Cardboard is an ultra simple virtual reality implementation, building a cardboard viewer around an existing smartphone. Given its simplicity, the Google Cardboard isn’t likely a product Apple will emulate, but it does raise the possibility of an accessory that could be used alongside the iPhone to enable virtual reality experiences.
Google Cardboard headsets are constructed from low-cost components and require a compatible app to split an iPhone’s display into two to create a stereoscopic 3D image. As an open platform, Google Cardboard has been used by multiple companies to build apps with 3D experiences and games. Other features include a photography app for taking 360 degree photos and an educational component for sending students on virtual field trips.
PlayStation VR – PlayStaton VR is similar to the Oculus Rift with a full head-mounted display that will work with the PlayStation 4 console. Prototype versions include a 1920 x 1080 120fps OLED display with a wide field of view, stereoscopic 3D, and head-tracking capabilities.
Samsung Gear VR – Developed in partnership with Oculus, the Gear VR is similar to the Google Cardboard, incorporating a Samsung Galaxy Note 5, Galaxy S6, Galaxy S6 Edge to serve as the display and processor. It includes custom sensors and high field of view lenses that make it more accurate than the simpler Google Cardboard.
HTC Vive – The HTC Vive is a head-mounted display HTC is developing alongside Valve. Like the Oculus Rift and the PlayStation VR, it’s primarily aimed at gamers and will work with the Steam platform. It includes two 1080 x 1200 90Hz displays in each eyepiece and it incorporates more than 70 different sensors. With an included base station, it can detect a person’s movements to avoid obstacle collisions.