When ByteDance acquired Chinese VR headset maker Pico a year ago, the message sent was clear: it bet the immersive device would be where future generations would spend most of their time consuming digital content. It’s a marriage reminiscent of Meta’s acquisition of Oculus in 2014, except the world is now in a different place with technological advancements making VR headsets cheaper, slower and more comfortable to wear.
Parent TikTok has long aimed to compete in a market dominated by Oculus’ consumer VR devices. When Meta launched Quest 2 in 2020, ByteDance worked on a confidential internal project to develop AR glasses, The Information reported. Pico’s product launch this week is a further indication of its ambition to challenge Quest, which has enjoyed roughly two-thirds of the global AR and VR market over the past two years.
The Pico 4, which starts at €429 (around $420 thanks to a strong dollar) for 128GB and ships to Europe, Japan and South Korea outside of China, has won plaudits in the VR community. This weighs only 295 grams without the straps and can work as a standalone device but also be connected to PCs for more advanced VR experiences. It uses the Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2 processor like Quest 2 does.
“It’s inexpensive and good quality, with specs that can match Quest 2,” says Gavin Newton-Tanzer, host of the AWE Asia mixed reality conference.
“I was impressed with the weight, comfort, LCD screen, pancake lenses, color AR passthrough, and controllers. All it needs now are some serious triple-A VR exclusives to set itself apart from Meta and engage gamers,” writes one VR content creator.
Just “matching” Quest 2’s specs doesn’t seem good enough given that the latter was released two years ago and became an instant hit. Pico not only has a lot of catching up to do technologically, but also in terms of content and branding.
“Oculus’ content ecosystem is more established, providing a better understanding of what consumers want,” says Newton-Tanzer. Popular rhythm game Beat Saber, for example, had generated $100 million in revenue on Oculus Quest as of October 2021.
Pico has a chicken-or-egg problem, the XR expert suggests. Its user base across all product lines is currently not large enough for top-tier creators to focus on creating games, videos, and other VR content exclusively for its platform. It reportedly sold 500,000 units last year, half of its target. In contrast, Quest 2 shipped 10 million units between October 2020 and November 2021. But without premium content, Pico will struggle to attract users in any meaningful way.
“A lot of Chinese virtual reality companies act too much like manufacturers and only think about hardware sales without fundamentally caring about what people want to do with the product,” says Francis Bea, founder of Eleven International, a PR cross-border technology. agency. “Pico basically needs to invest in great content and know how to brand the product before it’s really competitive.”
The good news is that Pico has established a strong presence in China and doesn’t face much competition in the domestic market. Oculus has no official presence in China, which means users have to go through the hassle of ordering a foreign version, getting the Oculus app from a foreign app store, and accessing its global ecosystem of applications via a virtual private network because Meta’s servers are blocked in China.
The tech fork could give Pico time to test and learn in the domestic market before going full steam ahead out west. US expansion is already underway as ByteDance has begun to build a team for Pico on the West Coast, according to Protocol, in an effort to attract talent in content, marketing and R&D .