Having access to VR as soon as you purchase a phone is pretty slick.
Phone-based solutions are what is bringing VR into the homes of thousands of people. Using Gear VR and Google Cardboard, plenty of people who would probably never even considered VR have now given it a shot. Discovery is still a problem for VR, even with this mobile rising. Outside of the free giveaways, if you want to check out VR you have to go out and pick up your experience of choice. That only happens once you've been given a compelling reason to check out VR, which usually only happens when the headset is right there to check out.
What if that wasn't the case though? What if, instead of having to go out and make the decision to pick up Cardboard, you already had one because it came with your phone? That's the question we're asking today thanks to Alcatel and their Idol 4S, which have decided to package their phone in such a way that every phone comes inside a Google Cardboard-friendly VR headset.
About the Headset that comes with the Idol 4S
The first thing that we should note is that the packaging for this phone is a Cardboard clone, made entirely out of plastic. The headset this phone ships in also comes with straps so you can really enjoy your VR experience without having to hold the Cardboard unit up and in front of your eyes. There aren't many Cardboard headsets with straps, and even fewer are well done, but out of this box Alcatel has delivered something nice.
This takes steps out of the equation, and makes it more likely that folks who have never experimented with VR will give it a whirl.
The name Cardboard has been a bit misleading for a while, since many headsets are made out of plastic with foam inserts to make it more comfortable if you're wearing it for a longer period of time. This particular version fits together easily with a nice lid, which makes it handy to store without it taking up more room or getting an unbearable amount of dust into the lenses.
The last thing worth mentioning about the setup that Alcatel is shipping with their Idol 4S is that it comes preloaded with a variety of VR experiences. From 360-degree videos you can watch to several games, and even a VR launcher and Store. This takes steps out of the equation, and makes it more likely that folks who have never experimented with VR will give it a whirl and see how it goes. Don't worry, Google Cardboard apps you install from the Play Store all work as well.
Why does it matter?
Here's the thing, there are still millions of people out there who haven't gotten their chance to check out VR. There are plenty of different reasons for this, but by packaging a phone with cardboard you have the ability to reach those people. The more folks who end up trying out VR, the more we'll see in terms of new apps, services, and uses for the VR that plenty of us have already fallen in love with.
By packaging a phone with a Cardboard unit, there is no extra step aside from downloading a VR app. It puts the ability to play right into their hand, and that's a very good thing. Even better, when people get their hands on a well made VR headset, they're more likely to keep playing. After all, a Cardboard unit made out of actual cardboard can be quite flimsy. A plastic headset is going to take the abuse of new users in a much better way in the long run.
On the other hard, you can't really use anything other than this one Alcatel phone on this headset. While that probably doesn't matter to anyone who owns this phone, it means sharing the headset is a little more complicated than your average Cardboard headset.
So is it awesome?
In a word? Yes. Shipping a phone with Cardboard, or in this case, inside of cardboard, is a great move. It brings VR to even more people, which is fantastic to see. We're still at the beginning of seeing what VR can do, and part of what is needed to keep moving forward is popular support. If folks aren't using VR, and downloading new apps, then it's never going to go particularly far.
This solution is expensive for the manufacturer, but goes a long way toward closing the discovery gap with mobile VR. That's a big deal for everyone.