With the first consumer VR year behind us, the Virtual Reality sales numbers of VR HMDs are finally coming in. The VR industry is not at the same stage as the smartphone industry was when the iPhone came out. It’s more like 1997 when we had the first globally available mobile phones. When the iPhone came out we already had smartphones. But the jump from rudimentary VR HMDs to the “iPhone-status" VR HMDs will be shorter than with smartphones.
How big is the VR market?
Today we can say with ease that 2016 was Year 1 for consumer virtual reality. With VR’s rebirth there were some problems along the way. At launch in March, Oculus unexpectedly delayed many pre-orders by roughly a month due to an unspecified component shortage. This gave the HTC Vive a virtual monopoly on the market.
Since the Oculus Touch controllers did not launch until December 6th, many games also ended up being temporary Vive exclusives. Oculus’ subpar first year not only benefited rival HTC, but also resulted in short-term pain for game makers who needed more customers to turn a profit making VR games. Sony’s PSVRs outsold both of them, putting more devices on the market than Oculus and HTC Vive combined.
And we need to consider that Sony’s PSVR only launched in November 2016. Sony’s cautious start did not live up to consumer demand causing headsets and bundles to sell out quickly and keep PSVR from breaching 1M shipments in its first year.
SuperData Research Report says that in 2016 the global VR market welcomed:
There are several other news site reporting or projecting similar numbers (werables.com, forbes.com, businessinsider.com).
A closer look at China’s VR market
Marketingtochina.com reports that during Q1 2016, Baofeng sold over 1 million units of its $30 headset though a network of 20,000 brick-and-mortar stores. The goal was to reach 10 million headsets sold by the end of the year. Taobao (consumer version of Alibaba) has reported total sales of over 300,000 units of VR headsets a month (excluding offline sales).
The leading seller is the low-cost Ritech headset, which is selling at a rate of 101,644 units a month. These headsets typically go for less than $10 each in China, and cost around $20 from Amazon. Chinese headsets makers have the potential to leapfrog the US in mobile VR as major brands ZTE, LeTV and Huawei have also entered the competition with their own VR headsets.
Another area of potential growth is out-of-home and location-based entertainment. Pricier headsets are currently having a tougher time in the market. The high-end PC based VR experiences are not accessible to most of China because of the high price range and low income in China. The VirGlass headset, for example, available for the equivalent of $60 in China, currently sells just 754 units a month on Taobao and AliBaba.
Out-of-home experiences provide the average Chinese consumer with high quality VR content, accessible through internet cafés, malls, and other commercial venues and theme parks. Taiwan’s HTC announced that they were planning on opening over 10,000 out-of-home VR experiences throughout China in partnership with Suning Commerce Group and Gome Eletrical Appliances Holding Ltd. LA-based SPACES and Songcheng Performance Development Co. - one of the world’s largest theme park operators - have recently formed a joint venture to bring VR in theme parks and also develop standalone parks across China. Many ventures and partnerships are expected to contribute to the burgeoning VR market.
Learn How to Create an Amazing VR Marketing Campaign with VR Cardboards
According to Guangdong-based VR186, an online publication covering virtual reality in China, there are as many as 1 million virtual reality developers in China, based on data presented at a Unity game developers convention in Beijing this past spring, accounting for a quarter of all developers world wide.
As on the hardware side, the software side of virtual reality is also dominated by startups and independents, with the large players taking a wait-and-see approach. Bloomberg reports that at least 200 startups are working in China’s virtual-reality industry. Venture-capital investments in China surged about 50 percent to $12.2 billion in the first quarter, according to London consultancy Preqin Ltd.
Is mobile VR winning?
The numbers clearly show that mobile VR was more popular in 2016 by a landslide. Samsung sold 2.3 million Gear VR units in 2016, but also reported this January at CES that altogether they have shipped 5 million of their smartphone powered VR headsets. This is nearly 6 times more than the Oculus Rift, which is tethered and requires a powerful gaming PC to run it. After a blockbuster year for the Samsung Gear VR, Google put its horse in the race with the Daydream View.
The headset is device agnostic, functional with any smartphone capable of running Android Nougat. For now only the only a couple of the latest smartphones are Daydream-capable, but with a slew of new releases set for 2017, Daydream will become accessible to millions more Android users. Besides Google and Samsung, Oculus is also working on a mobile version of their VR HMD. It will be somewhere in between mobile VR and their tethered offering. There is also plenty of smaller players doing their part to establish the mobile VR market as the leader in the consumer space.
Google Cardboard is the real key to VR’s rebirth
Hate it or love it, the real winner is Google Cardboard. This simple HMD made from cardboard is the real key to VR’s rebirth. Without it it would still be a niche technology only accessible to a few selected markets. In 2016 more than 88 million of headsets like Google Cardboard and ViarBox were sold.
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However, it’s only fair to mention that most Google Cardboards are purchased by brands to be given away for free. They are considered more as a promotional tool and a toy than a serious VR HMD. Still, this means potentially tens of millions of smartphone users who had no means of watching VR through a headset last year, will now have the ability to watch VR video content in an HMD today.
Source: Timelooper & ViarBox
How are companies using Google Cardboard in their campaigns?
As mentioned before, a lot of Google Cardboards were purchased and distributed by brands as promotional material. Usually companies at trade shows or events have a local high-end VR HMD where people can try out branded VR experiences. After the trial brand’s hostess gives the visitors VR Cardboards to take home and try the mobile version of the VR experience.
What happens is that the visitors show the experience to all of their friends and family. This way brands that are using VR can create an important word-of-mouth effect to promote their messaging. Let’s say a company orders 5000 units of custom branded Google Cardboard and spends 3$ per unit. These 5000 units are given out to visitors of their trade show booth. Each of the visitors that takes home one Google Cardboard shows it to 10 friends.
This practically means that the company was able to deliver it’s message to 50.000 people at a price of $0.3 per person. Because a VR experience is something unique and personal the likelihood that the promotional messaging will be remembered is at least ten times greater than the traditional digital ads we are bombarded with today.
If your company is considering using virtual reality, don’t hesitate to reach out to us and check out ViarBox and Viar360 - our products that enable the use of VR for business purposes. You can always reach out to us over email as well.
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