VR for All

VR has been a technology struggling to reach mass adoption. React VR is positioned to change all that. We’ve taken a look at why.

With the release of the consumer versions of the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift, high-quality virtual reality has finally arrived for users worldwide. Additionally, anyone with an iOS or Android phone can have a VR experience using Google Daydream or its lo-fi counterpart, Google Cardboard.

In order to understand how React VR is disrupting this space, it will help to look at some of the problems these traditional VR platforms are facing. There are a number of obstacles to widespread VR adoption and availability, both for users and businesses looking to engage potential consumers with VR content.

Lack of Portability

The Vive and Rift are cumbersome, wired headsets that require a powerful PC to operate. Providing a room-scale experience requires setting up extra sensors designed to follow the movement of the user's head through space. This greatly restricts the portability of the VR experience that a business may want to provide. Any VR experience is also going to require the user to install some software that they don't already have, even if it's just a Cardboard-enabled Android app, adding still-more complexity to the process.

Cost

The Oculus Rift currently retails for $500, the Vive has an even higher price tag of $800, and both are useless without a high-end PC (think $900 or more) to power them. This is far too expensive for the majority of consumers, and pricy enough to give many businesses pause.

Beyond the cost of hardware, businesses considering leveraging VR could be scared off by the high costs of developing applications for these platforms. Creating an app for any of them requires a wide variety of skillsets including 3D modeling, animation, scripting, and navigating UX design in a very new platform. The cost of all of this effort adds up.

Cross-Platform Issues

Creating content that works across platforms is virtually impossible using the most common development engines today, Unity and Unreal Engine. Even if an app is designed to support multiple VR platforms, each of those platforms supports different modes of interaction depending on the hardware being used. For example, an Oculus user with Oculus Touch controllers has more interaction options than a user who doesn't have them, and they both have more options than someone using Google Cardboard.

Enter React VR

In April of this year, Facebook announced the release of React VR, a framework for building VR websites and interactive 360 experiences using React. React is one of the most widely used Javascript frameworks in the development landscape today, and with the creation of React VR Facebook has nearly eliminated the barrier to entry for those who want to design, sponsor, and experience VR applications.

Universal Portability

React VR works by compiling to a web application that leverages the nascent WebVR standard. Because a React VR application is just a website, any device with an internet browser is capable of accessing and running a React VR application. If your device has a browser that supports WebVR (Chrome for Android, Chromium and Firefox Nightly Builds on Windows) the application will detect the VR capabilities of the device (in the case of a phone), or any attached devices (in the case of a PC with a VR headset attached), and respond accordingly. On an unsupported browser, the React VR application will render as a draggable 360 degree interactive experience. This means that your React VR experience is exactly as portable as you need it to be—it's everywhere the internet is.

Cheap to Experience, Cheap to Create

For a user who owns a smartphone, a true 3D VR experience costs as little as the $15 for a Google Cardboard headset to slip their phone into. A React VR application can be designed to support the $800 Vive, but will still work perfectly well at the low end of the price range.

From a business perspective, a React VR app can be built in a fraction of the time, and with far fewer resources than a traditional VR application. Many web developers in the market today have React experience that translates seamlessly to writing a React VR application. For example, all of the interactive elements of the React VR demo on this page were built in under 5 hours.

Cross-Platform Utopia

As stated above, React VR completely resolves the issue of building a cross-platform application, since any platform with internet access can use a React VR app. But this is where React VR really shines. If a React VR application is accessed on a device with no VR capabilities, e.g. a PC with no VR headset attached, it will load as an interactive 360º panorama whose view can be changed by clicking and dragging the mouse. On smartphone without a VR viewer, React VR will display the same 360º panorama, but will control the viewport using the phone's gyroscopes, allowing the user to "look around the room" by using their phone as a sort of window into the VR world. Because of this robust platform detection, React VR allows for great use of progressive enhancement. This means we can design a VR application that fully supports the least common denominator (users with no VR capabilities), but also allow for more engaging modes of interaction for users with the most expensive VR equipment.

Why It's a Big Deal

So what are the implications of this trifecta of perfectly portable, low cost, cross-platform VR? The applications are wide-ranging. This will be a disruptive technology for any industry that allows consumers to customize their products.

A car dealership could use a VR application to allow on-site customers to customize a car's interior and exterior on the spot, with any color they imagine, using the dealer's high-end VR equipment. The same application could be available online for users anywhere to do the same exact thing on their own computers or phones. Real estate companies could offer real virtual tours of properties that are miles apart from one another without their clients having to move an inch.

The most exciting potential these applications have is in the interior design sector. An interior design agency could take panoramic pictures of a client's space, load them into a React VR application on their phones, and immediately allow the user to customize the colors of that space in VR. A simple version of that might look something like this:

Such an application could be easily adapted to allow the modification of building materials in full 3D. The consultant could even save this instance of the application at a permanent URL that the client could access from their own device whenever they wanted. Or, imagine being able to take a 360º photo of your living room on your own, and "loading" furniture into that space to see what it would look like in VR before you buy it.

These possibilities for virtual reality aren't daydreams. These can all be built today, unlocking enriching new experiences for users and valuable opportunities for business owners. And with the release of React VR, the barrier to building these pioneering experiences has been blown away. Let's get building!

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