Mobile VR has exploded the last couple of years thanks largely to two things, the Samsung Gear VR and Google Cardboard. These two solutions, in particular, helped to spread mobile VR to consumers on a grand scale, which surprisingly enough, are how many people are first exposed to virtual reality in general. While Android users have a wealth of headsets to choose from and ways to experience mobile VR, iPhone users on the other hand don’t seem to have the same diversity.
The good news is this could be changing. Recently Apple announced HTC Vive support for its upcoming Mac PCs, and while that doesn’t affect the iPhone directly, it could be a sign that Apple is finally ready to take VR seriously. In the meantime, there are already VR headsets for iPhone – just not officially.
So what’s the secret? A little thing called Google Cardboard, which is currently the best VR headset for iPhone users. Let’s dive right in and explain, shall we?
First and foremost, it all starts with the iPhone. Considering the demands of mobile VR, it requires a ton of raw power to process everything. Just like anything, newer devices are more capable of handling all of the strains that mobile VR puts forth on a phone. You’ll want to have the latest and greatest, obviously, so that means owning newer phones like the iPhone 7, 7 Pus, 6s, 6s Plus, and the pocketable SE.
What’s surprising, too, is that the support is extended to even older iPhones – such as the iPhone 5 for instance. Sure, there might be some noticeable difference between it and an iPhone 7, but it’s tolerable enough without adversely affecting the overall experience in a negative way. Now, depending on what headset, app, or VR experience you end up using, the supported iPhones will vary. The vast majority of them, however, offer support to the following below.
- iPhone 7
- iPhone 7 Plus
- iPhone SE
- iPhone 6s
- iPhone 6s Plus
- iPhone 6
- iPhone 6 Plus
- iPhone 5s
- iPhone 5
Yes, you’ll want to get Google Cardboard
Earlier we mentioned that Google Cardboard has been one of the stronger proponents in the mobile VR landscape, but most people would presume it’s an Android-only affair. Well, that’s far from the case! Google happily offers support for the iPhone with its inexpensive, no-frills headset. And the best part about Cardboard? It’s cheap, so you won’t be spending a fortune on making one, or better yet, buying one for yourself.
Aesthetically, Google Cardboard isn’t necessarily the most stylish or comfortable mobile VR headset, but at least it’ll get you started on the path to mobile VR. You might have to fiddle around with the headset itself initially, just to ensure that the iPhone is fitted in there properly – as well as adjusting the lens so that you get the most optimal view. Like we said, it looks crude, but the end result is no different from other headsets you might pay more for.
The premise of Google Cardboard is also no different from what we’ve seen on the Android side, which allows for a wealth of experiences ranging from rail games, to watching movies, being thrown into the middle of a 360-degree video, and even experiencing a thrilling roller coaster ride. After downloading the necessary Google Cardboard app, the initial demo helps to get you acquainted in navigating around the VR space. However, it ends up being just a hub that aggregates recommended, additional content for you to download.
What about other headsets?
For those requiring something a bit more aesthetically pleasing and comfortable to wear, there are other headset alternatives that get the job done – but at a higher cost, naturally. Most of them, in fact, provide support for both Android and iOS devices. Taking a quick peek at what Amazon has to offer, you’ll find things like the, $70 3D VR headset by Bnext, the $80 Merge VR headset, and VR Headset’s $140 Revolution 3D VR Glasses.
Part of the reason they’re more costly than Google Cardboard is that they feature sturdier plastic constructions, quick adjustments, and in the case of some of them, built-in headphones. To tell you the truth, though, the overall VR experience is no different if you go the cheap route with Google Cardboard, as the VR experience is still a mostly sit down, looking around kind of thing. In fact, they typically use the same exact apps, as the above examples are “Google Cardboard compliant”.
So what are you getting by dishing out a chunk of change for these alternatives? Like we said, the aesthetics and quick adjustments are what’ll attract prospective buyers to them. And in the long run, they’ll hold up significantly more than the cardboard construction of Google’s flimsier interpretation.
Games with controller support
While the majority of VR experiences for the iPhone mainly center around moving your head around to see in all directions, there are some games that go beyond this by adding support for Bluetooth controllers. Unlike Android, however, the iPhone is more selective about what controllers are supported – so you’ll want to do your research beforehand to see what controllers will work. You’ll specifically want to sniff out controllers that are termed “MFi” compatible; made for iPhone.
VR games, like Fractal Combat X, leverages the controller to allow gamers to pilot an aircraft – while still experiencing the impressiveness of virtual reality by looking around. Another similar game, End Space VR, also utilizes a controller to pilot a spacecraft through thick battles in outer space. And if you’re not into these space shooter type of games, then you might want to try your luck in the first-person of Last Order: Blackwood Project VR Game, which has you surviving in this post apocalyptic world.
These games add a slightly different level to mobile VR, which is a nice change of scenery beyond those that simply have you moving your head back and forth, in all sorts of motions, just to interact in them.
There’s still room for more immersion
Certainly there’s a big disparity between the experience and content you’ll find using an iPhone, versus say, an Android smartphone of some sort. Samsung’s Gear VR is arguably home to the largest audience, amassing a catalog rich in content thanks in part to its relationship with Oculus. And taking things to the next level, Google’s own Daydream View headset is already enhancing the experience of mobile VR – with its ability to sense a higher degree motion.
Nevertheless, the iPhone is still capable of delivering VR experiences that cover the gamut. It might seem elementary when compared to newer VR headsets available to Android, but the core experience is still there. Is it captivating? Not really, but we hope that it’ll evolve – more so if and when Apple decides to get on board with this growing craze.
For more information on the kinds of apps, VR films, and other content you can use with your iPhone via Cardboard, head to our official Cardboard guide. Do you use a VR headset for your iPhone? Let us know any other tips or tricks you have down in the comments.