What Is The Best Phone To Get For VR Development?

Josh Unity VR Development Leave a Comment

I know, you’re super excited to finally have our first look at what VR Development will, I am too, unfortunately, I’ve run into a real problem.

My current mobile device is a Note 4…

I know you’re thinking: “for a guy that’s working in tech he sure has an outdated device!”

What can I say? Phones are expensive! I can’t afford them!

However, seeing as I’m trying to break into the mobile VR space, there are 3 types of HMD (Head Mounted Displays):

  • Google Cardboard
  • Gear VR
  • Google Daydream View

Of these 3, Google Cardboard is the poor man’s VR device ($10~) which is supported by pretty much every major phone since 2012 and then we move on to the higher end of the spectrum and we have the Gear VR and the Google Daydream at around $100.

A Google Cardboard doesn’t support any controllers and relies on our gaze and a button click the other two devices have a controller that gives us more freedom.

While I could develop for the Google Cardboard, the exciting thing I want to try is the higher end VR headgears. Either the Gear VR or the Google Daydream Viewer, so with that said, it’s time to upgrade my phone! Goodbye money! You’ll be sorely missed!

The question now is…. which head display do I want to develop in?

Here’s the result of my investigation!

Gear VR

First up is the Gear VR manufactured by Samsung and powered by Oculus.

  • Release Date: November 27, 2015
  • Cost: $129.99 (HMD + controller)
  • Supported SDK: Oculus
  • Supported controller: Controller, Touchpad
  • Apps Available: According to their own site, there are 800+ apps for Gear VR of the time of this writing.
  • Total Devices Sold: 5 million in 2016.

Supported Phones

Now here’s the most important part: what type of phone would I need?

According to my favorite resource in the world, Wikipedia and some other sites, supported devices from oldest to newest is:

  • Samsung Galaxy Note 4*
  • Galaxy S6
  • Galaxy S6 Edge
  • Galaxy S6 Edge+
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 5
  • Galaxy S7
  • Galaxy S7 Edge
  • Galaxy S8
  • Galaxy S8+
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 8

* the Galaxy Note 4 DOES support Gear VR, however only the HMD, not the controllers. It also overheats a lot.

Samsung is a huge flag ship and as time goes on, more and more people will upgrade to newer Samsung phones that will support Gear VR.

Another important detail is that from the Galaxy S8 and onward, all device also supports the Google Daydream View.

The phones to consider are:

  • Cheapest supported phone: Galaxy S6 ($200~)
  • Cheapest phone that supports Gear VR and Google Daydream: Galaxy S8 ($600~)

Development Kit

Gear VR is powered by Oculus. Looking at their documentation. Outside of going native, the primary 2 game engines that Oculus support is, you guessed it: Unity and Unreal Engine.

For our case, it looks like the Oculus provides a nice starter guide with samples that teaches you how to use their tools. There are also a lot of other tutorials that are out there, like this one from Unity,

App Store Submission

Developers for Gear VR will have to submit their apps into the Oculus App Store. The submission process requires an approval process where editors review each app submission to make sure the apps meet the bare minimum requirements.

We can think of Oculus as the apple of VR apps.

Google Daydream View

Next up, we have the Google Daydream View, which is not to be confused for the new Standalone Google Daydream headset that doesn’t require any mobile devices.

  • Release Date: November 10, 2016
  • Cost: $71.99 (HMD + controller)
  • Supported SDK: Daydream
  • Supported controller: Controller
  • Apps available: According to this source, there are 153 apps out since March 2017.
  • Total Devices Sold: 260k in 2016. Note that there were only 2 months left in 2016. However, a gaming analyst company (SuperData) projects 6.8 million sold by the end of 2017, realistic or not, only time will tell.

Supported Phones

The requirement for the Google Daydream are on the higher end. According to their own site. The supported phones are:

  • Pixel 2
  • Pixel 1
  • Samsung Galaxy S8
  • Samsung Galaxy S8+
  • ZenFone AR
  • LG V30
  • Galaxy Note 8
  • Moto Z2 Force
  • Moto Z Force
  • Moto Z
  • Axon 7
  • Mate 9 Pro
  • Porsche Design Mate 9

Many of these phones are on the higher end of the price spectrum as I recall, the primary reason is that Google Daydream requires more powerfull phones to support their VR experience.

Of them all:

  • The cheapest phones are the: Moto Z and Axon 7 (both at $400~)
  • The cheapest (and only) phone that supports Gear VR: Galaxy S8 ($600~)

Development Kit

The Google Daydream View is supported by their Google VR SDK. Just like the Oculus, there’s support for:

  • Native Android
  • Unity
  • Unreal Engine

In our case, our main interest is in Unity. Google provides their own documentation and tutorials and Unity also have some of their own documentation.

However, I was not able to find as many comprehensive tutorials for the Daydream View compared to the Gear VR.

My guess for the reason why we don’t see as many apps and tutorials for the Daydream is because there aren’t many devices that support Daydream.

What this means is that there aren’t a large enough audience to incentivize developers to work on making Daydream apps and create tutorials for it.

However, if we were to talk about the Google Cardboard, that’d be a completely different story!

App Store Submission Process

Like the Oculus Store, Google has their own specific Daydream app store where you can find all the Daydream apps available.

When submitting your app to Google, you would also go through a manual reviewing process where editors make sure that your app meets all the standards.

The good news is that even if your application gets rejected for the Daydream store, your app will still be published in the normal play store.

Conclusion: Which Phone and Platform

Which Phone Should I Get?

After researching all options, it’s time to decide on which phone to get.

If you’re looking for a budget phone that supports one device, there are “cheap” alternatives for both the Gear VR ($200~) and Google Daydream ($400~), however if you want to be future proof for both head displays the cheapest option is the Samsung Galaxy S8 ($600).

An important note to make is that we don’t really need a phone that can support both. Realistically speaking, the best choice might be to focus on one platform and then once you have success there, then consider getting a phone that supports the other platform.

However, I want to be that VR guy so I decided to order myself a Samsung Galaxy S8.

Pros and Cons of Each Platform

We’re currently in a fork in the road for our VR development. We must make a conscious decision on which platform to develop for Oculus or Google.

Oculus

Pros of Gear VR:

  • Larger audience due to support for older Samsung phones.
  • More available documentation/tutorials.

Cons of Gear VR:

  • If you can’t get your app approved, you’re finished.

Google

Pros of Daydream Viewer:

  • Even if your app gets rejected, it can still be put into the normal Play Store.
  • Shares similar SDK with the Google Cardboard so we can build a Cardboard app first and then add in Daydream features to it afterward.

Cons of Daydream Viewer:

  • The oldest supported phone for Google Daydream is from 2016. The supported audience size is far smaller than Gear VR’s, 260k vs 5 million. Of course, we’ll see how they compare when the 2017 numbers are released.

At this point, it seems that working with the Gear VR might be better due to an immediate larger audience size and availability of help.

However, an important component to consider for Google’s platform is the Google Cardboard.

Pros of Google Cardboard:

  • Cheap, easy to get, and at this point, supported by most smartphone owners (ie large audience). Estimated to be around 10 million sold devices in 2016.
  • A lot of available documentation and help.
  • Shares the same SDK with Daydream.
  • Supports both Android and iOS devices!
  • Apps are all in the Google Play Store where most users are already familiar with.

Cons of Google Cardboard:

  • Doesn’t support controllers like the Daydream Viewer or Gear VR.
  • Is not as high quality of an experience compared to the other two.

Which Platform Should I Develop For?

The answer depends on what you want to do!

If you want to create a high end mobile VR app that reaches a larger audience, you should consider the Gear VR.

However, if you’re willing to wait/invest for the future, then Google might be a good play.

Currently, in Google’s platform, we can take advantage of the shared SDK between the Cardboard and the Daydream to create an app for all the cardboard users and then enhance it to use a controller for the Daydream users.

The main problem with the Daydream is the smaller number of users that have a Daydream (and a supported device)

In the future, we’ll eventually reach a point where most people will have upgraded their phones to one that is Daydream ready. At this point, the Google Daydream Viewer will reach the same level of availability as the Gear VR.

The big question is in that point in the future will Gear VR already entrenched itself as the platform to develop in. Realistically, I think with Unity’s support for VR, it *should* be easy to adapt a Gear VR app to be a Daydream app and vise-versa so we can’t go wrong either way.

My Decision

Considering all these facts, I’m going to make a bet with Google’s platform with my assumptions being:

  • There will be more Daydream ready devices that people will eventually upgrade to and…
  • there was a decent amount of purchases of Daydream Viewers in 2017

With that said, I have made my purchase of a new Galaxy S8 and tomorrow I’ll start looking into working with a Google Cardboard!

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