VR headset makers look beyond gaming to fitness

Makers of virtual reality (VR) headsets are moving away from a gaming-only focus and aim to engage a new audience of fitness enthusiasts

VR headsets have long been known for attracting a mainly young male audience, thanks to the immersive video game experiences they provide.

But tech companies have seen the potential these devices hold for a wider audience, namely users interested in fitness, the Washington Post reported.

Beyond Gaming

To reach a broader user base, VR headset makers have been looking outside of the gaming space and marketing their virtual reality devices as more than just gaming devices. When Apple recently announced the launch of its new Vision Pro headset, the company did not focus exclusively on gamers, but instead highlighted how the device would enable anyone to have more immersive conversations, as well as capture more dynamic photos and videos and augment their entertainment experiences.

With respect to fitness, many industry insiders feel that VR has the potential to attract people who might otherwise not work out, users who might not be able to travel to an in-person class and who would potentially be bored by traditional fitness activities on a flat screen.

“The immersive quality of VR is a far better medium for motivating people to exercise than anything you can do on the flat screen,” said Eric Janszen, CEO and co-founder of VirZoom, a fitness app that is available on the Oculus Quest store. “You’re not staring into the screen. You’re actually in it, and you are reacting to the world, and the world is reacting to you.”

Attracting female users

VR headset
Virtual reality, beyond gaming │ Credit: Unsplash

The prospective new audience for virtual reality headsets includes women. Citing a Meta executive, the Washington Post reported that in 2019, less than 10% of Quest headset users were women. The “majority of VR users out there [are] skewed males, skewed towards youth, skewed towards gaming,” said Ramon Llamas, a research director at marketing analytics firm International Data Corporation. But that user demographic is steadily shifting.

Virtual reality exercise apps like FitXR, available on Meta’s headset store, have been appealing to more and more women and today the app’s average customers are woman over 35, according to FitXR CEO Sam Cole. These users are “buying a headset to use it as a piece of fitness equipment, rather than a gaming console,” he stated.

Tech makers are apparently getting ready to take the VR fitness sector by storm. Apple is reportedly planning to incorporate its Fitness+ app, which tracks users’ fitness goals and offers thousands of video and audio workouts into a new version of its VR headset. Meanwhile, ByteDance’s Pico is preparing a new VR headset that will include a large array of sports and fitness apps along with an exercise tracker.

Meta, a key VR headsets player, is also looking to conquer the fitness market. In 2021, the company announced the purchase of Within, makers of the popular VR fitness app Supernatural which pairs daily exercise routines with popular music.

In addition, last year, the fitness class company Les Mills partnered with Odders Lab to turn its martial arts game Bodycombat into a VR experience on Meta Quest headsets.

While the potential is there, challenges to the widespread adoption of VR headsets remain among fitness buffs.

Wearing a device while exercising may be uncomfortable for some and can possibly cause dizziness. The cord connecting Apple’s Vision Pro headset to its battery pack may also restrict users’ physical movements. “I have my reservations on this one,” Llamas said. “I go to the gym five days a week … I don’t see myself doing that with a headset on.”

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