HTC Vive dropped its Google Daydream headset to focus on China

HTC is going all in to solve China's mobile VR fragmentation.

Throughout the Vive Focus event today, HTC never once referred to the headset as a Daydream VR device, which was a little odd given how it was first teased as one of the two standalone Daydream devices back at Google I/O. Then came this baffling statement from HTC shortly after the keynote: "We still have a great relationship with Google, but will not be bringing a standalone device to the Western markets on Daydream." In other words, the aforementioned Daydream collaboration between HTC and Google is no more, even though the Vive Focus lives on by way of the Vive Wave VR open platform. This cancellation was later confirmed by Clay Bavor, Google's Vice President of Virtual and Augmented Reality, though he also implied that the other standalone Daydream headset from Lenovo is still in the pipeline.

Pulling out of such a special partnership -- let alone passing an exclusivity to a competitor in the process -- seemed a little counter-intuitive for any young brand like HTC Vive, so I later caught up with the company's Vice President Raymond Pao to see if he was losing his mind. As it turned out, he wasn't, and that this was purely a logistical decision in favor of an apparently huge market opportunity -- one that's buried deep underneath a pile of random Chinese VR headsets.

In my earlier conversation with HTC Vive's China President Alvin Wang Graylin today, he mentioned that the ever-growing Chinese market now has over 400 VR head-mounted display vendors, and no thanks to their different app stores, APIs plus accessories, developers aren't willing to deal with the hassle to cover all devices for relatively little return. And because of the lack of quality content plus inconsistent experience, many of those devices -- ranging from the cheap mobile-based headsets to the handful of standalone VR headsets -- fail to go mainstream or even enter retail. This, Pao said, is where HTC's Vive Wave can patch things up.

"China is the fastest growing VR market in the world and where mobile VR is most likely to gain mass adoption first," Pao told Engadget. "It's also a marker where fragmentation has occurred due to the lack of a leader open platform. Vive Wave is intended to address both these issues, and it's clear from today's cross-industry support that the market as a whole is in agreement."

Specifically, Vive Wave aims to standardize both hardware and software, in order to offer a vast library of VR content across a range of devices with optimal performance. For the former part, it already has 12 manufacturers signed up, and Pao obviously wishes to see even more hardware partners join the party -- even if it means adding more competition to his own Vive Focus. On the software side, not only is it about optimizing performance for medium-level hardware to ensure sub-20ms latency, but it's also about making it as easy as possible for developers to port from Vive, Daydream or Samsung Gear VR.

If Vive Wave is as versatile as it claims to be and that the hardware manufacturers get things right, then it shouldn't be hard to convince developers from all around the world to tap into the vast Chinese market via this platform. In fact, about 1,200 to 1,300 developers have already inquired HTC to develop for Vive Wave, according to Graylin.

It's obviously too early to tell whether HTC has placed the right bet, but from a business standpoint, it makes sense for HTC to go all in on this opportunity. Most notably, Google and therefore Daydream have no access to the Chinese market, so HTC would have to go solo to lead the effort in that part of the world, anyway -- as it did with the original Vive since Steam isn't always accessible there (hence the birth of Viveport).

"China is a huge potential market and we have no plans to take Vive Wave outside of it at this time."

One could argue that HTC should really be covering both sides of the playing field, and after all, the Daydream version of the Vive Focus would have likely been almost identical to this China version, so it only would've needed relatively little extra manpower. But on the other hand, building an ecosystem doesn't scale the same way as building hardware in terms of resources, which is why HTC has taken the safer approach to focus on building up Vive Wave, and solely for China. "China is a huge potential market and we have no plans to take Vive Wave outside of it at this time," Pao added.

Well, here's hoping that one day the Vive Focus will still make it to other markets in some shape or form (and preferably in a darker shade of color), so long as Google is genuinely fine with that after this little breakup.