Peter Chou, the man who led HTC Corp through its most prosperous years as an Android phone maker, is returning to consumer electronics with the unveiling of a new virtual reality headset, platform and company.
Called XRSpace, the project has been in the works for three years and its centerpiece is a mobile VR headset equipped with fifth-generation wireless networking and over three hours of battery life. Partnering with Deutsche Telekom AG and Chunghwa Telecom Co, XRSpace is also building the VR platform on which services, games and social activities can be accessed and experienced.
Priced at $599, the XRSpace headset has a high cost of entry, but the company envisions bundling it with carriers’ 5G service packages or in other forms for educational institutions. After its home market of Taiwan, it’ll look to expand to the US and Europe, Chou said in an interview with Bloomberg News, with the rest of Asia to follow.
Chou’s headset is the latest in a long line of devices like Facebook Inc’s Oculus Rift, which have tried to bring VR into the mainstream without much success so far. The XRSpace gadget is still months away from store shelves and few have had a chance to test or even view it. But the entrepreneur says he’s already signed up 40 to 50 apps for his VR platform.
XRSpace’s ambition is to come up with uses for the 5G networks that carriers are rolling out globally.
“5G is coming. It feels like 2002, when we first had 2.5G data networks and the first smartphones like the O2 XDA started coming out,” Chou said. “Today, the smartphone experience of togetherness is primitive” because it fails to capture the full range of human expression. XRSpace’s headset uses cameras to pick up hand gestures and track the wearer’s motions, and it creates a lifelike avatar from a selfie. Chou promised it’ll let users perform real-world actions like shaking hands or shooting a basketball in a natural way.
The XRSpace founder quit HTC after the popularity of its smartphones waned, but now he’s hoping VR will help a comeback.
To build its virtual world, XRSpace has been designing public and private spaces for users to inhabit and even creating virtual stadiums where sports fans can gather together for a shared viewing of a ballgame. The coronavirus outbreak has triggered an uptick in interest in shared remote experiences, as signaled by rapper Travis Scott’s virtual concert in the game Fortnite and Sony Corp’s Chief Executive Officer Kenichiro Yoshida expressing interest in streaming live concerts to the company’s PlayStation VR headset.
The pandemic was initially an obstacle for XRSpace, whose launch had been planned for Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February, one of the first global events to be canceled by the spread of the virus. Chou said that manufacturing was set back by roughly two months because of it, and the XRSpace headset is now expected to launch in the third quarter of this year, starting with Taiwan where the company has the most partnerships lined up.
But the upside for XRSpace, according to Head of Content Kurt Liu, is that many more interested parties — such as educational institutions asking about distance learning and collaboration tools — have been reaching out. Liu’s team has been working with hundreds of developers since last year and already has more than 40 apps embedded in the platform, he said. Those include games as well as wellness and relaxation applications, for which the company has recruited health care experts with decades of experience.
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