In the wake of Apple Vision Pro’s announcement earlier this year, ByteDance-owned Pico appears to be switching its focus from controllers to hand tracking.
Standalone headsets sold without controllers in the box would represent a dramatic shift for the VR industry, with Apple’s $3,500 entry early next year marking the paradigm change and breaking with the “clumsy” controllers which shipped with all the consumer VR headsets of the 2010s. Apple, instead, opts for a fresh start with an interface based on a breakthrough combination of eye and hand tracking.
For existing VR makers like Pico, HTC, Meta, Valve, and Sony, a $3,500 headset-in-a-box might not be too threatening to their immediate positions, but what happens when Apple’s less expensive follow-ups ship with much less bulk? For competitors, offering an interface that seamlessly shifts from tracking an object to tracking your fingers is an extraordinarily difficult engineering problem that could potentially hinder apps that aren’t updated to support the new system.
“We will encourage developers to use [hand tracking] wherever possible,” ByteDance Games Operations Manager Wenyue (Vayne) Lv wrote to UploadVR over email. “But users will still be able to enjoy raycast controller-based content if they choose.”
Separately, a source familiar with the matter confirmed to UploadVR that ByteDance leadership is shifting a majority of developer funding away from games which only support tracked controller input.
Meta just rolled out an experimental feature on its high end Quest Pro headset to use hand tracking and controllers at the same time, and earlier this year Google-owned Owlchemy Labs hinted that’s the future of VR input as well. HTC also supports the dual mode functionality too but, historically, Meta’s significant investment in machine learning engineers and computer vision scientists has seen the quality of its tracking technology outpace the work of smaller competitors.
While Apple entering the fray is likely to increase the value of independent dedicated hand tracking companies like Ultraleap, under-funded platforms with existing investments in controller games might struggle with the transition. Companies like HTC and Pico, for example, have the unenviable task of evolving their platforms to support controllers as the optional input system while also securing store release from the small pool of developers who have the right ideas and ability to execute a title with cutting edge tools. Can these smaller players really hope to lure enough developers to compete with the likes of Meta and Apple?
This difficult transition is likely why ByteDance recently invited UploadVR to a “workshop” alongside other “guests” to “learn from everyone’s opinion.” UploadVR declined attending as it was described as a “private” event and recording for audio transcription purposes would not be permitted by ByteDance. If anyone we know attends the meeting, though, we’d love to hear any details about Pico’s approach to navigating the treacherous transition ahead.
In which regions is Pico ready to ship its next headset? Will it come with or without controllers in every region? And is Pico ready to make the investment necessary to bring quality games to the platform that work with either input system?