When Google acquired Android back in 2005, Android quickly becamethe”open” mobile platform of choice, a haven for developers that didn’t like all of Apple’s rules and the walled-garden of iOS.
Today, Android is the largest mobile operating system in the world, in both worldwide market share and sales, and smartphones and apps wouldn’t be what they are today without the existence of Android.
Razer, which has been called the “Apple of gaming” due to its polished designs and high price tags, is actually looking to follow in Google’s footsteps — but this time, by betting big on virtual reality.
That’s why Razer recently announced Open-Source Virtual Reality (OSVR), an open platform for virtual reality game developers and hardware manufacturers to unify under one umbrella.
Basically, Razer is trying to create the Android for VR, and it has a good chance to succeed.
When I met with Razer CEO Min-Liang Tan to discuss OSVR, it quickly became clear that Tan and Razer fully believe virtual reality will be the next major computing platform. Razer sees the same opening in VR that Google saw in mobile back in 2005 — Tan says OSVR will be the unifying platform that virtual reality desperately needs.
That’s because virtual reality is really the wild west at the moment. While Oculus is leading the charge with the Rift and its partnership with Samsung to create the Gear VR, there’s really no unifying virtual reality platform at this time.
The Rift, which originally started as an open-source, DIY project from Palmer Luckey, has since evolved into a company that’s still defining how open (or otherwise) the Rift will be. In the meantime, there’s plenty of of game developers, hardware manufacturers, and accessory makers that are also creating virtual reality products.
Ideally, it would be great if they could all play nicely with each other.
That’s really the goal of OSVR, to make sure that whatever virtual reality headset or accessory you use, they will all be able to function together.
To show off exactly what it’s talking about, Razer has created its own virtual reality developer kit that’s highly customisable. Since OSVR is more about a unifying platform than any specific piece of hardware, Razer lets anyone download the plans to make their own version of its headset.
Razer is also making a pre-built developer kit for tinkerers, to demonstrate the software’s open nature and customisation options: For example, Razer’s headset includes USB 3 ports for attaching gaming peripherals like the Leap Motion controller for hand tracking.
With OSVR, I was able to play a demo where my hands could shoot fireballs. In all honesty, it was far from perfect and I’m not sold on the Leap Motion’s capabilities to be the input solution VR needs, but that’s the beauty of OSVR: it enables people to have options instead of drawing a line in the sand.
The biggest issue keeping virtual reality from truly taking off is content, and OSVR has the potential to make it easy for developers to create the games and experiences they want, making them easily compatible with the accessories or headsets they want.
So where does this leave Oculus?
Razer’s CEO told me the company had talked with Oculus, which was interested in OSVR and what the company was trying to do. Oculus founder Palmer Luckey understands the importance of open-source platforms, and there’s no reason that Oculus couldn’t make its software and hardware compatible with OSVR. It will really come down to whether or not Oculus wants to retain a certain level of control and turn the Rift into an iPhone and iOS-like device with its own rules and stipulations.
Regardless of what Oculus decides, the future of virtual reality looks a little brighter thanks to OSVR, and it could turn into the next Android if Razer plays its cards right.