The global coronavirus outbreak has brought booming business to online conferencing software.
That’s, of course, because governments around the world are asking people to stay home and ordering workplace closures—two measures aimed at stopping the virus spread. Now, Taiwanese smartphone maker HTC is building on the remote connection craze with a virtual reality meeting service. You send your avatar to the event and put on a VR headset to see the avatars of colleagues and clients. Techies call these types of VR meetings remote “extended reality,” or XR.
HTC’s latest VR service, called VIVE Sync, will give its VR business unit a lift because users can meet only after the buy the company’s headgear, analysts say. Its gear, also sold under the VIVE brand, has a strong reputation among VR fans. But the novelty of immersive meetings is expected to curb any surge in income. Being new means lots of bugs yet to be worked out.
“Overall, although COVID-19 has generated some demand from remote extended reality devices, especially for those expecting more interactive and immersive experiences, the popularity of the remote XR work platform is still limited,” says Wallace Liu, analyst with Market Intelligence & Consulting Institute in Taipei.
The company that’s better known for smartphones says on its website that Sync lets users create a private meeting room and work “face-to-face” with other people virtually and that as many as 30 people can meet at one time. The VR setup goes on to let participants look at any show-and-tell material in 3D. Participants can take files from cloud storage to stream at meetings, for example. The service adds 3D, interactivity and an overall sense of being there that most other video conferencing services can’t offer.
“For collaboration, a lot depends on the number of participants and file-sharing capabilities and this is where I think Vive sync makes sense for small-scale meetings— up to three participants—which can be productive at the same,” says Tarun Pathak, an associate director with Counterpoint Technology Market Research.
The XR market across vendors should grow by $177 billion from this year through 2024, market research firm Technavio forecasts, citing digital “transformation” across numerous industries. Other virtual meeting service providers include Glue, MeetinVR and Spatial.
HTC should stand out against competitors on the hardware side, analysts believe. VIVE ranked as the most popular head-mounted display brand among VR tools for three consecutive years through 2018, the company has said. Third-party evaluators give VIVE hardware quite a bit of weight among its peers since the company got into VR in 2016.
“I think Sync would have some integration benefits over third-party services since they own and control both the hardware and the software,” says Tuong Nguyen, senior principal analyst with the market research firm Gartner. It’s unclear so far, Nguyen says, how VIVE Sync fits into HTC’s “bigger virtual reality strategy.”
Smartphones are tough for HTC due to competition among Android handset makers and a global slump in sales across brands.
Across the nascent XR segment, vendors must work out user-friendliness obstacles before they get much more traction, analysts caution. Immersive meetings should offer internet security, integrate the tools of people’s jobs and be “intuitive” enough to lure people away from other internet meeting software, Nguyen says. Screen performances and operational efficiency need particular attention, Liu says.
While HTC can use VIVE Sync to promote sales of hardware, inevitably not everyone whose avatar is suited up for meeting wants to buy it. “Unless HTC could come out with more effective strategies such as putting more resources into promotions and launching a full VIVE Sync version bundled with more price-friendly XR devices, it would be quite challenging for Sync to bring a significant amount of revenue to HTC,” Liu says.