There is a place in the market for a headset like HTC’s Vive Flow, however, I am not sure that it works in its current state.
Here’s a breakdown of why.
Why does Vive Flow Exist?
Let’s start with Vive Flow’s purpose, according to HTC Vive.
The company says it is primarily for meditation, entertainment, or productivity. This seems valid especially when you consider that the design is much more accessible than previous generations of VR headsets, and it has a removable face gasket for easy maintenance. That said, the Vive Flow still requires an external battery for use which for many may end up being a major objection. Vive Flow weighs a meager 189g, which is primarily because it has only a small battery designed to allow for hot swapping an external power supply without the device turning off.
HTC sees Vive Flow as a headset you put on to escape your hectic day and a place you go to relax and play some casual games or experience some meditation apps. The headset is also the most portable VR headset on the market today with the ability to fold up easily and fit inside a very small container for easy transport, something most other VR headsets cannot claim.
While most of the specs leaked, the Vive Flow is said to have a 100-degree FOV which is pretty good for such a portable headset.
The display has a resolution of 3.2K and a refresh rate of 75Hz. I believe it is powered by the outdated Qualcomm XR1, which is still a very good chip but shouldn’t be relied upon solely for compute and should mostly be seen as a chip for offloading work from a smartphone or other compute device. Critically, unlike Oculus Go which used Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 821, Vive Flow has 6-DoF head tracking even though it does not come with any kind of a controller. With the Vive Flow, your phone is the controller, and interactions are done through your phone’s touchscreen to maximize portability. The headset also has two bottom firing spatial speakers which are great, but are probably best supplemented with noise cancelling Bluetooth headphones for better isolation.
I recently got a chance to try out the HTC Vive Flow at a small event in Los Angeles hosted by HTC Vive, and I spent some time with the headset and some of the people involved in making the Flow happen.
Right off the bat, I was impressed by the total thickness and size of the device and the fact that it easily folded up like a pair of glasses/goggles, which isn’t really a thing you can do with VR headsets today. After I got to play with the hardware a bit, I put Vive Flow on and it was instantly clear why this works as a more passive VR experience. This is what Oculus Go was good for, until Facebook killed that product. I think it was a mistake to kill Go because it was perfect for a certain segment of the market that doesn’t need 6-DoF or very high performance, but still could benefit from a quality low-cost media consumption solution.
When I wore Vive Flow, I first tried the TRIPP app which is a digital wellbeing and meditation app that I am familiar with, and the company’s founder and CEO Nanea Reeves spoke very highly of her experience with this headset and how easy it was to work with HTC to port it. It is quite clear apps like TRIPP great for this lightweight goggle form factor, and just the right fidelity for the XR1 chip, which seemed to run TRIPP’s app smoothly. In addition to that, I also played Space Slurpies, which was a more casual gaming app that the developer Alexander Clark ported to Flow. Space Slurpies is a pretty passive, yet engaging 3D version of the popular smartphone game snake, with a twist that this version uses your smartphone as the controller to control your snake’s movement. This game was also engaging and smooth and has both single and multiplayer experiences, which could prove to be a great way to unwind.
Last, but certainly not least, was the ability to mirror your smartphone’s screen via Miracast to the headset. This experience sets you up with the ability to receive phone calls, text messages and view apps on your phone like TikTok and YouTube. This gives you a virtually ‘huge’ screen that also gives you privacy — because you’re viewing it via VR headset — and this also gets around some of the worst content barriers for VR. Specifically, the fact that so many apps don’t let you download content onto a VR headset for viewing offline. The Netflix experience was great, but I could also see this reviving a ton of media consumption experiences that died when apps like Netflix never brought offline support to their VR apps.
Also, while I am very bald, I could absolutely see how this headset could be much easier to use for people who have a lot of hair or simply can’t deal with the current ergonomics of VR headsets. I believe that HTC plans other solutions, but the folding form factor enabling maximum portability is going to be the main use.
Overall, my experience was fairly positive but I was left wondering how much of a market there really is for Vive Flow and whether HTC’s go-to-market makes much sense, especially since the company is pitching this as a consumer product.
Enterprise Use Cases And Pricing?
Vive Flow is a headset that is very good at its intended purpose, but I believe HTC Vive’s go-to-market plan is fairly flawed.
They are rolling out a $6 per month Viveport subscription to make access to content fairly inexpensive, but at $499 I simply don’t see very many people going out of their way to choose this headset over Oculus Quest 2. Additionally, I’m not entirely sure the best applications of this headset are even remotely consumer applications. For example, HTC Vive brought around MyndVR, which is a VR application for helping senior communities transport their residents to other parts of the world virtually. That sounds like a great enterprise application to me. Overall, I could actually see this headset working much better paired with an application like MyndVR or TRIPP as part of a monthly subscription that includes the hardware and software and entirely ignores the current $499 pricing.
I just don’t see consumers necessarily being sold on the form factor first rather than the application first. I could see this headset being far more successful with the backing of Oculus’ content library, but even with that the $499 pricing is simply too much in my mind for most consumers, and that’s why I think an enterprise model makes more sense here.
This is HTC’s first consumer standalone VR headset in a while, especially in the US where none of its standalone headsets ever launched as consumer products. I would really like to see Flow paired with applications that benefit from its portability and make sense offered as a service. This is really the only path I see for the Vive Flow’s success. Currently, HTC plans to sell Vive Flow on its website, direct to consumer with no clear plans to sell it anywhere else.
Disclosure: Anshel Sag is an analyst for Moor Insights & Strategy and, like all research and analyst firms, provides or has provided research, analysis, advising, and/or consulting to many high-tech companies in the industry. The author does not hold any equity positions with any companies cited in this column.
Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly identified the processor used in Oculus Go.