Virtual reality companies across the globe have come leagues since those early (and rather impractical) endeavors. Tech giants, like Sony and Oculus developer, Facebook, lead the pack - putting the US near the top of the food chain.
But high-tech has always been the playground of east Asia, and there’s much to be said for both the virtual reality production [companies] and VR headset companies emerging there - not least of all in Taiwan. With HTC accounting for about 13% of the current VR headset market, it’s only natural that an ecosystem of XR companies and startups would bloom in Taiwan.
According to XR EXPRESS Taiwan, a government-supported project in Taiwan promoting XR technologies, the Taiwanese sector was worth NT$4.66 billion in 2018 - up 18.4% on the previous year. Taiwanese companies averaged a yearly growth of 26.5%, indicating just how lucrative the industry is. Application/software development has emerged as the most prominent area of the Taiwanese sector, accounting for over a third of all business efforts, followed closely by technology development.
Just who are some of the Taiwanese companies spearheading this new era of XR innovation across the board?
Related Article: The Virtual Reality Applications Shaping The 2020s
The company putting Taiwan on the map when it comes to VR, HTC have spent the last decade diligently developing their Vive product line in close collaboration with Valve. Initially catering to the high-end, Vive now boasts a range of VR headsets touching various price points.
Corresponding platforms Viveport (HTC’s answer to Valve’s Steam) and Vive X (an investment, strategy, and networking program) aim to accelerate the XR ecosystem by supporting startups and game devs across the globe.
Peter Chou launched XRSpace after stepping down as CEO of HTC back in 2015. Having helmed HTC’s pioneering of VR, XRSpace looks to continue that mission.
“The singular goal of XRSpace is to take XR [mixed reality] to the masses by redefining how people connect, socialize and collaborate by simplifying the hardware and user experience,” said Chou.
The company currently has two flagship products. The first is Manova, a Second Life-esque MMO marketed as a social VR platform. Users can own private spaces and socialize using character models that recall those found in The Sims.
More exciting is the corresponding VR headset. Freed of the clunky and unattractive trappings of more advanced headsets, the Mova headset is sleek, comfy, and affordable. It’s also being touted by the company as the world’s first 5G VR headset. Evidently, they are pushing for a casual userbase by placing their bets on 5G’s promise of true mobility and constant access.
Emphasizing the overlap between AR and VR, this Taipei-based company also looks to flesh out a more casual userbase for mixed virtual/augmented reality products by honing in on real estate.
‘We spotted the need to improve the communication and information between buyers and sellers by leveraging advanced technology,’ noted CEO Rene Fang. ‘Nowadays, buyers and decision makers require more and more information. Selling a house is not just 2D photos.’
Flagship product VR Maker turns smartphones into high-quality virtual reality cameras, with which panoramas and floor-plans can be created, labelled and shared. VR Editor is an online editing tool, allowing said panoramas to be transformed into branded virtual tours. Both of these production processes are ordinarily wallet-busting; iStaging creates a more affordable alternative with these easy-to-use apps, which represent the value they place on end-users through a ‘B2B4C’ (business to business, for consumers) approach.
Since founding in 2014, iStaging has received investment from Dare Ventures, American China Economic Cooperation Group, AIL, and other internationally renowned institutions. With the exposure this afforded, they have expanded operations globally and segued into additional verticals, including home design, tourism, and fashion retail.
Exemplifying the Taiwanese sector’s pursuit of technological innovation, Ganzin is a Taipei-based startup researching and developing eye-tracking solutions. The collective takes a fresh approach to tech by employing young engineers fresh out of University, as well as professionals from other fields, like psychology and behavioural studies.
The result of their work is Aurora; an ultra-precise eye-tracking module that can be conspicuously installed in eyewear and VR headsets. Enabling software to react to real-time eye movement, this exciting hardware could be a game-changer in the evolution of AR interfaces and VR headsets. Certainly, it opens up a wealth of creative possibilities in gaming, and gestures toward eyesight as the future of digital interfacing.
Ganzin was named an honoree at the 2020 CES Innovation Awards and a runner-up in Qualcomm’s ‘Innovate in Taiwan Challenge’. They also happen to be partnering with Epson, who have been developing smart glasses for almost a decade and are devoted to building a mass market for wearable devices. With such momentum, it’s likely that Ganzin’s Aurora module will be available for ordinary consumers sooner rather than later.
Kaohsiung-based BROGENT creates mixed reality experiences. Think ‘4D cinema’, but for the 2020s. Combining things like VR headsets, 3D glasses and enormous LED screens with high-tech platform rigs, the company has launched a number of fun ‘experience’ products - including i-Ride and m-Ride - that operate in theme parks and game parlours across Asia, Europe, the US, and Australia.
Founded in 2001, the company epitomizes the first frontier of virtual/augmented reality. While the industry’s overall expansion depends on more practical uses for high tech, these foundational commercial ventures proved what’s possible when ambition takes precedence - even when it comes to having fun.
This summer, they launched a 5G Cloud-Based VR game rig operating in Kaohsiung Software Technology Park. Across the pond, they launched ‘Sky Voyager’ in Dreamworld Australia.
That being said, it’s not clear what will come next for these kinds of products - which rely entirely on public spaces - in light of the coronavirus pandemic. Most of the world hasn’t been so fortunate as Taiwan or Australia when it came to mounting a rapid response to the pandemic. With theme parks elsewhere laying off workers in the thousands and shutting doors indefinitely, it’s hard to imagine global clients are filing orders for new attractions.
VR has already seen a wide range of applications in different industries and domains in Taiwan, especially in entertainment, healthcare, and education. With both big players and promising newcomers saturating the scene, Taiwan’s VR landscape looks to continue to evolve productively.
XR EXPRESS Taiwan foresees two key areas of development in 2021 - firstly, XR applications expanding hand-in-hand with the adoption of 5G, and, secondly, the continued acceptance of virtual alternatives in creating a ‘zero-contact’ economy, including applications in remote working, immersive learning, and virtual exhibitions, in the post-COVID-19 era.
As XR EXPRESS Taiwan notes, ‘most of Taiwan’s XR companies are five-year old start-ups focused on digital content and technology development, areas which have great potential and flexibility.’ Not only that, most of them are eyeing to enter the international market.
While that plan has been put on hold due to the restricted business mobility caused by COVID-19, a new trend of innovative use cases for VR has also emerged. “This pandemic has brought about more remote working applications, and encourages contactless alternatives, virtual exhibitions and social gatherings. The ‘new normal’ offers a glimpse of how this technology will be applied in the future.’