Xiaomi Denies Reports it is Disbanding its VR Development Projects
Virtual reality was billed as the next big tech revolution a few years ago and every major tech company threw its hat in the ring to grab a piece of the pie. However, things didn’t quite go according to plan, at least on the scale that was predicted three or four years ago. Uptake has been slow and unenthusiastic and the leading players are yet to press the right button that will take the technology mainstream.
Some of the companies that were enthusiastic about the prospects are reportedly developing cold feet. One of these is Xiaomi which according to an earlier report on Venture Beat had disbanded the development team that was behind its virtual reality headsets and those of its partner, Facebook. Facebook has partnered with Xiaomi for the development of the $200 standalone headset which was released under the names Oculus Go and Xiaomi Mi VR. However, Facebook has issued a statement confirming that it is not abandoning the Oculus Go platform.
The reports emerged from The Ghost Howls blog by the VR enthusiast Antony Vitillo and it stated that Xiaomi has laid off all the staff that made up the Mi VR/Oculus Go development team. The team include a dozen members of staff who have the responsibility of maintaining and evolving the virtual reality platform.
According to Vitillo, the news of the disbandment has emerged from a very “reliable” source. However, in a statement issued today, the Xiaomi has denied reports that it is closing its VR projects terming the reports as “untrue”:-
Xiaomi Mi VR Standalone and Facebook’s Oculus Go have seen strong sales and are among the most popular standalone headsets on the market. Recent reports on Xiaomi closing VR projects due to disappointing sales and usage are untrue.
Production and sales of current Mi VR Standalone are operating as normal. At the moment, we don’t have any news to share regarding our future product roadmap, but we will keep our users in the loop on any updates to our product portfolio.
Reached for comment by Venture Beat, Facebook, without confirming the Vitillo report stated that Oculus Go remained “the best way to enjoy immersive entertainment” and that the company was “still producing and selling Oculus Go”. Facebook also promised to keep its community informed on its future portfolio. We are sure, at least, that both Facebook and Xiaomi are confirming that will keep producing and supporting the Oculus Go platform even though we still aren’t sure whether the company will continue evolving the Go hardware platform or work on a second-generation Go product with Xiaomi.
In his blog, Vitillo had suggested that Xiaomi had laid off its VR projects staff due to multiple reasons such as “disappointing sales and usage” as well as relatively low profit margins and the comparatively limited content for the Xiaomi Mi VR version of the headset.
Both Oculus Go and Mi VR hardware are capable of running the same software. However, Facebook is certifying and distributing Oculus Go apps via the Oculus Store forcing developers to recompile and then resubmit their apps to Xiaomi for sale in the Mi VR markets.
If the MI VR project team has indeed been disbanded, and Xiaomi is neither confirming nor denying this in its statement, it could mean that Xiaomi is pivoting away from low-end VR; has finished its work on its follow-up projects or it is just delegating the Mi VR work to a third-party or other people.
It could also be Vitillo has gotten it completely wrong. There were recent reports that Apple and Valve had disbanded their teams working on AR/VR projects but both reports turned out to be untrue, highlighting the possibility for external misunderstanding of the internal dynamics within a company.
However, even before the emergence of this update, both the Oculus Go and Mi VR headsets seem to have hit a development dead-end. Last year, they were development breakthroughs thanks to the standalone design and affordable pricing. However, to realize an entry price of $200, some quality compromises had to be made. They, for example, relied on three degrees-of-freedom (3DoF) tracking and older-generation smartphone components at a time when Facebook was also busy working on a new generation of relatively affordable hardware such as Quest and Rift S with 6DoF and more advanced components.
Facebook is holding its next major AR/VE event, the Oculus Connect 6 conference on September 25 and 26 at San Jose and the company will also be integrating Go support into Quest later in the year.