Five Reasons the HTC Vive Flow Will Win over Consumers
HTC rejoins consumer virtual reality with a new, all-in-one headset
At a virtual event yesterday, consumer electronics company HTC formally announced the HTC Vive Flow, an all-in-one virtual reality (VR) headset aimed at the consumer space. The move marks a new direction for HTC, which had largely abandoned consumer-facing VR after its initial Vive headsets back in 2016. While the company has not stopped making headsets, they’ve largely been geared more toward enterprise applications. So the question naturally becomes: Why go back now? What’s changed that’s made HTC decide that now is the time to re-enter consumer VR and reveal the HTC Vive Flow?
Well…a few things, actually. While I’m not here today to tell you that the HTC Vive Flow will be a huge breakout success and bring VR into mainstream consumer usage, I do believe that five factors will make the headset a profitable success for HTC—something that the company can build on for consumer-focused VR going forward.
1. The HTC Vive Flow Specifically Targets Emotional Well-Being
Given the nature of VR headsets, many are quick to associate (and reduce) the technology to gaming. After all, it has a screen, graphics, and many come with controllers. In its announcement video, HTC barely mentioned gaming at all. Instead, the focus was clear: The HTC Vive Flow is designed to help people manage their emotional well-being; to improve mental health and reduce stress through immersive, relaxing VR experiences. This is not to say this is all the headset can do, but it certainly was the highlighted use case.
Extended reality (XR) and exercise is nothing new. Many early VR experiences paired a headset with an exercise bike, allowing the user to experience a greater sense of movement and adventure, even when remaining in one place. VR and augmented reality (AR) have also been used in physical therapy, patient care, and numerous forms of mental development. However, never has a headset specifically targeted the audience for emotional well-being. It reframes the HTC Vive Flow not as a gaming device, but as a self-care device—opening it to an audience that may not have been paying much attention to VR before. Given the recent growth of the self-care industry (ASD Marketweek reported that the self-care space has grown from about $10 billion in 2014 to roughly $450 billion by the end of 2020), this makes sense.
The move to deliberately classify HTC Vive Flow as a self-care device is fascinating, bold, and may help certain potential consumers start to see VR as more than just a gaming tool. And, given the continued state of the world, demand for such a device will likely not be in short supply.
2. The Pandemic Has Created the Need for Mental Wellness
It is difficult to fathom silver linings from the COVID-19 pandemic, but the fact that many of us now have a greater awareness and understanding of our mental health state is only a good thing. After all, the first step to recovery is knowing that one has a problem. And man, do a lot of people have problems right now when it comes to stress. The American Psychological Association’s latest Stress in America poll found disturbing signs of increased stress across the US—whether manifesting in weight gain, increased drinking, less sleeping, or other problematic factors.
These fears aren’t just bound to the COVID-19 pandemic (although that certainly has been a major contributor). Climate change, political unrest, and financial troubles are adding to people’s stress, with certain groups like younger Millennials, Gen Z, and Alpha generations in particular anguish. In short, there is a demonstratable need for devices like the HTC Vive Flow to help people regain some measure of inner peace.
3. VR’s Continued Growth
While VR has yet to really “explode” in any sense of the word, there is data to show a small but steadily growing consumer market for the technology. As of July 2021, it’s been reported that Facebook has sold roughly 4 million of its all-in-one Oculus Quest 2 headsets. Data gathered by gaming software and hardware developer Valve is less specific, but showed that Quest 2 usage made up roughly a third of overall VR headset usage. Sony’s PlayStation VR passed 5 million units sold in 2020.
Again, none of these numbers are spectacular or comparable to devices such as smartphones or tablets, but they do show a growing market. The HTC Vive Flow is in position to build off past successes and continue to build the install base of consumer-focused VR headsets. Especially if it can lower the barrier to entry, like say, with a controller everyone already has…
4. A Controller Everyone Already Has
One of the reasons VR fell flat in 2016 was due to its enormous barrier to entry. You didn’t just need a headset. You needed a headset, controllers, sensors, a computer powerful enough to run VR programs, and space to actually move and interface with the solution. So, someone looking to jump in would easily spend well over $1,000 before all was said and done. With a $499 price tag, the HTC Vive Flow is significantly cheaper. Since it’s an all-in-one, users don’t need to worry about having a compatible computer or setting up bulky external sensors.
And then there’s the controller: Through Bluetooth technology, smartphones can work with the HTC Vive Flow as controllers. This is a big deal as it allows HTC to just sell the headset with one less accessory, while ensuring that practically everyone can interface with a familiar device right out of the box. Not only can a smartphone function like a controller, HTC has shown that it can communicate with apps, letting users connect to say, their Netflix accounts and watch HD programming in a “cinema like” experience.
One of the largest draws with all-in-one headsets is the lower price point and the resulting lower barrier to entry. While it may not be the HTC Vive Flow, it is a very safe assumption that the first mainstream consumer VR hardware success will happen to an all-in-one.
5. Vive Sync and Remote Collaboration
Lastly, everyone knows that software sells hardware. You can have the shiniest toy in the world but, if there’s really nothing to do with it, it will collect dust fairly quickly. The HTC Vive Flow is coming bundled with several experiences geared toward relaxing and re-centering (but that’s not all). HTC also announced that its meeting and remote collaboration platform, Vive Sync, will also be compatible with the device, giving it an enterprise application that every remote or hybrid worker can take advantage of. Given the changing nature of the workplace, this is a smart inclusion.
And it’s important to remember that this is the beginning, not the finale. While HTC has positioned its device as a solution to one particular problem, the reality is that HTC Vive Flow can (and will likely) be used in a wide variety of ways. Patches can easily add features like hand tracking, and the company could decide to release a dedicated controller should the product prove successful. As I wrote recently, VR is essential to the coming modern metaverse. It is a tool that, when paired with human creativity, will allow the internet to evolve in ways that are currently only theories and possibilities.
I am not writing this blog because I think the HTC Vive Flow will be the breakthrough consumer device the industry has been waiting for, but it is certainly another step in that direction. The HTC Vive Flow represents a return to the consumer space and a desire to position VR as more than just a gaming accessory. HTC has many factors going in their favor that did not exist back in 2016. Time will tell how much of a difference that makes.
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