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Future tech

Are VR headsets only for young male nerds? HTC doesn't think so

HTC Vive turns to new uses for its headsets as it seeks to expand user base

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 January, 2018, 6:02am
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 January, 2018, 11:12pm

From weight loss to practising your golf swing to helping students improve their memory – there is more to virtual reality technology than headsets used in gaming, according to HTC Vive. 

The leading Chinese virtual reality brand, which announced the launch of its first offline flagship store in Shenzhen in the second quarter this year, believes these other, less explored uses could help expand the technology’s user base.

“Maybe virtual reality, in the future, will use completely different designs, or be just like the glasses we are wearing. But it will definitely be used just as commonly as the smartphones we see today,” said Alvin Graylin, president of HTC’s Vive virtual reality system in China.

Graylin pointed out that research suggested people wearing virtual reality headsets were inclined to work out more often and achieve better weight loss results. 

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The company cited another study, this time conducted by the Beijing Normal University, which shows that the deployment of virtual reality headsets could noticeably improve students’ memory, with three parameters – recalling quantity, recalling sequence and judgment sequence – showing sharp increases compared with traditional methods. 

Most users of virtual reality technology are by far young and male. An HTC survey conducted in July last year found that 70 per cent of users in China were male, while users 36 years old and above accounted for only 12 per cent. 

Data from JD.com, meanwhile, indicates that 84 per cent of virtual reality products purchased on its e-commerce platform were bought by male consumers – most of them born after 1990.

New, less explored uses are thus expected to help the industry diversify away from this group and improve sales of virtual reality headsets, which remain a niche market in China.

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HTC Vive’s approach also contrasts with the one taken by Baidu, one of China’s biggest technology companies. iQiyi, the company’s Netflix-style video streaming service, which has ventured into the sector, decided to include a “virtual girlfriend” in its virtual reality headset to entice 18 to 35 year-olds to buy its product. Baidu had to pull the virtual girlfriend from its headsets after a media report in the United States raised concerns that the product promoted disrespectful views towards women.

It [virtual reality technology] will definitely be used just as commonly as the smartphones we see today
Alvin Graylin, president of HTC’s Vive virtual reality system in China

The virtual reality market in China reported sales worth 829 million yuan (US$129.8 million) in 2017, an increase of 11 per cent from 746 million yuan the previous year. And the sector is expected to hit 1.17 billion yuan this year, according to research company GfK. 

“But compared with the smartphone market, where the number of phones in use is more than the population, the penetration rate of virtual reality headset is still tepid, only about 2 per cent to 3 per cent,” said Charlie Cai, a director at GfK. But he said he expected 30 per cent to 40 per cent growth in the virtual reality market in the near future.  

HTC Vive currently accounts for about 38 per cent of virtual reality headset sales in China, and Graylin expects the technology will be used by 5 billion people globally every day by 2025, just like the toothbrush and smartphones.