When it comes to hardware vs. software, virtual reality is very similar to other technology industries. There will likely be a period of time where competing software companies battle to get their tech adopted by the leading hardware manufacturers. In the end perhaps there will be a winner similar to Google’s Android for mobile or Microsoft’s Windows for computers or maybe even an Apple or two that will have standalone platforms.
Not having a standardized VR software platform makes it difficult for developers to create applications that are compatible with the many different hardware devices. The Immersive Technology Alliance (ITA) is one group that has been formed to address this and more issues related to VR and other immersive technology. The ITA has established working groups to make effective quality assurance and software compatibility standards for virtual reality devices.
Organizers of Open Source Virtual Reality (OSVR) are also working towards creating an open software and hardware platform for virtual reality. Their focus is mainly on VR gaming, but any framework they develop would likely have an impact on all VR applications. OSVR wants to be the unifying layer that translates input and output data from dozens of different VR hardware makers so that they all work together in harmony.
Oculus, who probably has the most potential to become the Apple of VR, is focusing on a proprietary software development kit (SDK) that’s tightly integrated with its own hardware. Valve, on the other hand, is building a more open platform that it says will support many different headsets, all of which run on Valve’s “OpenVR” standard. The HTC Vive is the first of Valve’s SteamVR headsets and the hope is that any headset will be able to work with the same apps and games by making use of OpenVR tools and drivers.
It will be interesting to watch how this area of VR develops and who the eventual winners are in the marketplace. A standardized VR software platform would certainly help push virtual reality into the next frontier.