The technology world is always a game of rivals. For every Facebook there is a Twitter. For every Nintendo there is a Sega and for every Apple there is a Microsoft. This latter pair is perhaps the best representation of tech rivals in Silicon Valley. These two monolithic companies have been warring in the personal computer space for decades. The battlefields may shift to mobile phones, tablets and online services, but the competition always remains.
Virtual reality may be one of the newest arenas for these types of competitions, but it already has gladiators ready to do battle. There are a handful of major players already cutting their teeth in VR including Google, Sony and Samsung; but the two titans sitting at the top of the heap are Oculus and HTC.
These two organizations, and their Rift and Vive VR headsets, have come to encapsulate the emerging “console wars” of the modern VR scene. The devices they sell may be new, but their growing rivalry is a tale as old as tech itself. Our big question today is this: when it comes to VR, are Oculus and HTC the respective Apple and Microsoft of the industry?
The similarities between Oculus and Apple begin with a shared interest in controlled content. Much was made last year about the so-called “walled garden” of the Rift’s Oculus Home software distribution platform. Unlike the Vive’s Steam platform, Oculus Home is far more selective about what pieces of content it houses.
Thinking that a moderated stream of high quality content is essential to the growth of a new industry is not a new way of thinking in Silicon Valley. Nintendo had a famously tight grip on what cartridges its home video game consoles would play in the 1980s and 1990s, but the most famous exemplar of the technique today is the Apple App Store.
The App Store may have a seemingly endless wealth of content to choose from, but ultimately everything you see in this online marketplace was carefully vetted by the folks in Cupertino. The positive and negative aspects of this approach are open to debate, but the similarities being displayed by Oculus and Apple in this area highlight a notable resemblance between the two companies.
In addition to a similar marketplace strategy, Oculus and Apple are both more willing to produce products that are easier to use over ones with flashier, more complex features. The Vive has a better, more robust positional tracking system than the Rift, but Oculus was willing to forgo that edge in favor of a simple, one camera (or two with Touch) approach that doesn’t require as much space in people’s crowded homes. The “It just works” attitude that Apple has made so famous is clearly in the DNA of Oculus as well.
Despite what you may see on the average college campus or Starbucks, Microsoft still has the edge in market share for the PC space. Windows drives the modern computing world and a large part of that is down to Microsoft’s commitment to three things: enterprise clients, open computing and deep, technical tool kits.
HTC’s Vive has a lot in common with those philosophies. Since launch, the near-future rhetoric from Oculus has been focused on what interesting games and experiences are coming up that make a Rift purchase worthwhile. Meanwhile, HTC has chosen to release powerful new developer tools like a open-sourced design information and a Vive Tracker peripheral. The company also has a more stated interest in realms outside of entertainment content like education, science and enterprise. Sound familiar?
Both Microsoft and HTC are building more “professional” devices while Apple and Oculus drill into the “consumer” side of things. The old notion that Windows is for work and Macs are for fun/creativity is echoed noticeably in the philosophies of VR’s two most notable companies.
What do you think?
Do you agree with this analysis? How do you think the different strategies of HTC and Oculus will play out and do you think it’s wise for either of them to be doing what they’re doing at this point in the game? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.