Everything You Need to Know About Virtual Reality on iPhone

Using virtual reality on iPhone
image credit: Caiaimage/Rafal Rodzoch/Getty Images

After years of hype, it's finally coming true: virtual reality is the next big thing. From holiday TV ads touting VR products to popular game consoles like the PlayStation getting virtual reality add-ons to Facebook buying VR-equipment manufacturer Oculus for US$2 billion, virtual reality is becoming more and more common.

If you've seen people using virtual reality, it's probably with handheld or head-mounted viewers like Google Cardboard or Samsung Gear VR (though the HTC Vive is better used in a full room). And if you're an iPhone user, you may have wanted to get in on the action and try virtual reality yourself.

Right now, virtual reality is a bit more robust for Android, but there are still a number of ways to use it on an iPhone.

What You Need To Use Virtual Reality On Any Smartphone

What you need to use virtual reality on an iPhone is the same as what you need to use it with any smartphone:

  1. A viewing device, like Google Cardboard or the Gear VR, that provides the two lenses and immersive viewing environment required for the VR experience.
  2. Apps that deliver VR content.

How to Use Virtual Reality on an iPhone

Once you've got the two things listed above, using virtual reality on your iPhone is pretty simple.

Just tap the VR app you want to use to launch it, then put the iPhone into the viewer with the screen facing towards you. Raise the viewer to your eyes and you'll be in virtual reality. Depending on the viewer hardware you're using and the apps you have, you may or may not be able to interact with content in the apps. Some VR apps are passive — you just watch content that's presented to you, like on TV — while others are more interactive, like games.

What Virtual Reality on the iPhone Is Not

Perhaps the most famous, and certainly the most impressive, virtual reality systems available right now are complex, powerful systems like the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, or PlayStation VR. Those devices are powered by high-end computers and even include controllers to let you play games and otherwise interact within VR.

That's not what VR on the iPhone is (at least not yet).

Right now, virtual reality on the iPhone is often a passive experience in which you view content, though some viewers include buttons to interact with apps and some apps support basic interactions. The Samsung Gear VR headset includes a feature that lets you move through menus and select content in VR by tapping the side of the headset. Nothing quite like that exists for iPhone, but some iPhone-compatible VR apps let you select items by focusing an onscreen target on them for a short period of time.

You can't use devices like the Samsung Gear VR with the iPhone. That's because they require that you plug your smartphone into the headset and the iPhone's Lightning connector isn't compatible with the micro-USB plugs those headsets use.

iPhone-Compatible Virtual Reality Headsets

If you're shopping for a VR headset for your iPhone, make sure you confirm that it's compatible and doesn't require a connection the iPhone doesn't offer. That said, some good options for iPhone-compatible VR viewers include:

  • Dodocase P2: A simple, cardboard viewer very similar in design to Google Cardboard. While it used to be available to regular users, Dodocase now sells it in bulk to other companies. Visit Site
  • Google Cardboard: A simple, lightweight, basic viewer. A good starting place if you don't want to spend much. Visit Site
  • Homido VR: A headset that emphasizes comfort, compatibility for people who wear glasses, and lenses you can adjust to best suit your face. Visit Site
  • View-Master: The classic kid's slide-viewer brand is back with VR headsets and apps. Visit Site
  • Zeiss VR One Plus: A much more elaborate headset than the others on this list, which includes support for augmented reality applications and the backing of a fashion brand. More expensive, too. Visit Site

Notable Virtual Reality Apps for iPhone

You won't find as many VR apps in the App Store as you will in Google Play or in the Samsung Gear app store, but there are still some worth checking out to get a taste of what virtual reality is like. If you've got a VR viewer, try these apps:

  • Discovery VR: The Discovery Channel takes you around the world in fully immersive VR in this app. Download at the App Store
  • Inception: Explore the world, and performances the world over, in the app that takes you to different cities and performance spaces. Download at the App Store
  • Life VR: Virtual reality content from some of the biggest publishing brands, including Time magazine, People, Sports Illustrated, and others. Download at the App Store
  • Jaunt VT: The app from one of the biggest VR production studios, includes ESPN college football content and documentaries from ABC News. Download at the App Store
  • NYT VR: The New York Times produces some of the best journalism and educational cotent for VR, all collected in this app. Download at the App Store
  • Sisters: A Virtual Reality Ghost Story: Horror is a lot scarier when it's totally immersive, as you'll learn hereDownload at the App Store
  • YouTube: The standard YouTube app that you use to watch videos and listen to music also supports virtual reality content that's been uploaded to the platform. Download at the App Store
  • Within: A collection of narrative VR experiences, including one from the USA TV show Mr. Robot. Download at the App Store

The Future of Virtual Reality on iPhone

Virtual reality on the iPhone is in its infancy. It's not going to mature much until Apple builds support for VR and VR headsets/viewers into the iOS. When Apple adds core support for new features and technologies to the iOS, adoption ​and use of those technologies tends to take off.

Apple CEO Tim Cook has gone on record as saying that augmented reality — a similar technology, but that lays computer data over the real world, rather than immersing you in a virtual one — has greater potential than VR. But as VR continues to grow in use and popularity, Apple is bound to make moves to support it.