An Unlocked Oculus Go Could Bring New Options to Users

Facebook unleashes virtual reality

Key Takeaways

  • Facebook reportedly will allow software modifications on its discontinued Oculus Go VR headset.
  • Freeing the Oculus Go from restrictions could unleash a flood of interest from developers.
  • Unlocked VR headsets could allow users to boot up alternative operating systems.
man playing VR goggle with colorful lighting

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Unlocked virtual reality headsets could open a new world of options for users. 

Famed programmer John Carmack recently said Facebook would allow root access to the standalone Oculus Go VR headset. The move could let developers and users make a wide variety of software modifications to the Go. 

"In the current ecosystem, an Oculus headset requires a Facebook account," Ben Harraway, of virtual reality developer Lumen Digital, told Lifewire in an email interview. "It's a barrier to entry that some users feel uncomfortable with. By allowing root access, it's basically unlocking that device so that a user can use it without enforced limitations and without the worry that "big brother is watching over them."

Breaking Down the Walls

Carmack said on Twitter he’s been fighting for years to allow more open access to the Go, which was released in 2018 and has since been replaced by the Oculus Quest 2. 

"This opens up the ability to repurpose the hardware for more things today and means that a randomly discovered shrink-wrapped headset twenty years from now will be able to update to the final software version, long after over-the-air update servers have been shut down," he wrote. 

Oculus headsets use a closed OS based on Android, meaning you can’t modify core functionality like settings, interface, and pre-installed apps, Nikolay Selivanov, a VR developer at the software firm iTechArt, explained to Lifewire in an email interview. 

"The device will now grant 'root access,' meaning you can modify and access whatever you want—all hardware and software become manageable," he added. 

Selivanov speculated that Oculus is opening up the Go as a way to popularize the VR platform. 

"One of the easiest ways to promote your product—make it open for upgrades. It will attract developers and untie their hands," he said. "This can lead to the creation of lots of apps and OS modifications that will attract new users."

Freedom to Create?

Freeing the Oculus Go from the software restrictions imposed by Facebook could unleash a flood of interest from developers, Harraway said. 

"Since Facebook tightened their grip, more and more developers just are not interested anymore—and it's easy to see why," he added. "The rules around what apps are allowed are too restrictive and stifle innovation. They tried to combat this with App Labs, which has worked to some degree—but the overarching eye of Facebook is just a turn-off for a lot of talented developers."

"In the current ecosystem, an Oculus headset requires a Facebook account. It's a barrier to entry that some users feel uncomfortable with."

Indie developers could revitalize the Go platform, too, as they can try ideas that larger companies wouldn’t typically go for.

Unlocked VR headsets could also allow users to boot up alternative operating systems, or launchers, as they are called in Android, Harraway said. 

"The business world and education sectors are crying out for a decent, mid-quality headset that is customizable and easy to work with," he added. "The Oculus Go, although quite old, is still a great headset for many tasks."

Many schools are interested in using VR for education, but current headsets are too delicate to hand over to children. An unlocked headset, Harraway said, could give them new options to work with. 

A visitor to the Comcast NBCUniversal booth wears a Samsung Gear VR Virtual reality device at a Career Expo held at the FIRST Robotics NYC Championship

Richard Levine/ Corbis / Getty Images

"An unlocked headset could be configured to create a safe environment for children to explore preloaded apps in the safe knowledge they won't have their activity tracked and won't accidentally load something they shouldn't be accessing," he added. 

Businesses could use an unlocked headset to create a specific experience for users, too. For example, users could watch a 360-degree architectural visualization or a training tool.

"They could distribute the headsets safe in the knowledge that users can't be distracted or access other content," Harraway said.

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