The release of the Oculus Go in 2018 was an important step for Facebook’s Virtual Reality division, but the product was short-lived. After being made obsolete by the Oculus Quest, the company discontinued the Go in 2020. Still, Facebook sold millions of the standalone headsets, and now they’re even more capable thanks to an unlocked software update. That means anyone with an Oculus Go will be able to tinker, mod, and develop software for them for years to come.
The Oculus Go was the company’s first standalone headset, and it came at a pivotal time. Back then, Oculus was focused on its desktop VR Rift system and a partnership with Samsung for mobile VR. However, Samsung decided to end support for its Gear VR feature. The Go offered a similar experience with access to the same mobile-optimized software that didn’t need to deal with the battery and heat dissipation limitations of a smartphone.
Eventually, the attractive $199 asking price led to about two million sales. Many of those devices are still floating around, and it’s only a matter of time before Oculus completely forgets about it. According to Oculus CTO (and id Software founder) John Carmack, he’s been pushing for unlocked software for years. When a company no longer has a financial interest in keeping a product operational, Carmack believes it should be opened up for users to maintain.
The update, which rolled out to the Oculus Go on October 21st, grants full root access to the Android-based device. Carmack says that even if someone found a shrink-wrapped Go in 20 years, they would be able to start it up and load the most recent software many years after Facebook shut down the official OTA servers. This might even make existing GO headsets a hot commodity. Units are still available on eBay for as little as $50, and they all have the potential to foster the development of cool homebrew VR software.
This is a great policy and not the sort of thing we’re used to seeing from a Facebook brand. I can only hope the same generosity applies to newer Oculus devices in the future—an unlocked OS for the Quest or Quest 2 would be fantastic. Other technology firms could also take a page from the Oculus playbook here. Many products end up non-functional after companies deactivate their aging online services. Game console makers are particularly bad about this, often sunsetting stores and gaming platforms on last-gen hardware while people are still using them. It’s a very user-hostile policy. For once, can’t everyone just be more like Oculus?
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