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Virtual reality headsets even less popular than wearable devices

The market's growing fast, but only the cheap stuff with no strings attached is selling

Virtual reality headsets are moving at a rate of 2.3 million a quarter, but cheap and simple devices dominate the market.

So says analyst firm IDC's Worldwide Quarterly Augmented and Virtual Reality Headset Tracker for 2017's first quarter. The firm says “about two-thirds of all headset shipments were viewers such as Samsung's Gear VR and Google's Daydream View that rely on external screens. More expensive tethered headsets make up the rest of the market.

There's good news in the market's rapid growth – IDC says shipments are up 77.4 per cent year over year – but that number represents broad and shallow demand “as new products began shipping and existing headsets expanded distribution to additional countries.”

IDC's veep of devices and AR/VR Tom Mainelli therefore reckons “most consumers to experience their first taste of augmented reality through the cameras and screens of their existing mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets.”

“It's very early days in terms of augmented reality headsets, with the vast majority of products shipping into the market focused on getting hardware into the hands of developers,” he says.

Here's IDC's data, with shipment numbers in thousands.

Company 1Q17 Shipments 1Q17 Market Share
1. Samsung 489.5 21.50%
2. Sony 429 18.80%
3. HTC 190.9 8.40%
4. Facebook 99.3 4.40%
5. TCL 91.3 4.00%
Others 980 43.00%
Total 2,280 100.00%

By way of contrast, consider the wearable devices market, a field widely considered to be stalled despite lots of initial enthusiasm. Last time The Register reported on that market, we found 33.9 million shipments a quarter. VR headsets need plenty of years of growth to get even close to that figure.

So good luck, Messrs Nadella, Zuckerberg et al – your forthcoming VR kit will land in a nascent market already populated by a pretty decent alternative device. ®

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