How to use a VR Headset with an iPhone

2016 was a ground-breaking year for virtual reality (VR). Major players in the tech world like Oculus, Sony and HTC released their own scintillating, next-level VR headset gear around the same time. Leaving the consumer suddenly spoiled for choice.

Samsung further broadened the market with its Oculus-powered Gear VR headset. Compatible only with flagship Samsung smartphones and a significant improvement on alternative mobile-only VR headsets. But Apple, by comparison, are virtually nowhere to be seen (see what we did there?)

Sadly for iPhone users, it seems iOS has some way to go before it catches up with the premium standard offered by Android. There is currently no device on the market that is specifically engineered to function with iPhone. However, it is still possible to use an iPhone with a range of budget, mobile-only VR headsets.

How to use a VR headset with iPhone: Google Cardboard

The best-known of these mobile-only VR headsets is the Google Cardboard. It was the first super budget headset to hit the market in late 2015, coming in at just $20 in the US and later £15 in the UK. It’s likely Google didn’t want to market the Cardboard as an iOS-compatible product, hence why the match isn’t widely publicised. But pairing your iPhone with the Google Cardboard is very simple.

The Google Cardboard is cheap because its functionality is very simple. Instead of featuring high-resolution displays, sensors and powerful internals like premium VR headsets, mobile VR relies on your smartphone to provide the brains while the headset’s job is to project it all through the VR lenses and obviously hold the phone in place.

It is the basic function of the Google Cardboard, but you’ll also need first to download and then load up a VR-enabled app to your iPhone to use VR. It goes for every mobile VR headset.

These VR apps read the iPhone’s sensors to replicate and track your head movements. As you’d expect, mobile VR is neither as responsive nor immersive as computer/console based VR, but you get the gist of what immersive VR is all about.

The Google Cardboard requires you to source your own lenses, but you can now buy pre-built models for as little as £6 on some particular auction sites.

Other iOS compatible VR headsets

Homido VR

Although all other mobile VR headsets (except the Gear VR) are essentially extensions of the Google Cardboard, many of them offer enhance features and just look a bit smarter. The Homido VR, for example, boasts a 100-degree field view. It lets you adjust the distance between the lenses. It is certainly more comfortable to wear thanks to its soft and cushioned padding. This padding also prevents light leaking through too.
There are a few versions of the Homido VR available for purchase. With the basic model coming in at £40 and the latest (Homido V2) just £60 online (at the time of writing).

Merge VR

For a funkier look on the outside and comfy foam padding, the Merge VR is another alternative. Compatible down to iPhone 5, this bright purple VR headset not only feels and looks great but allows you to interact with VR apps with two topside buttons that can be used to fire weapons and toggle different viewing modes. It also features camera access and VR START. Which provides access to hundreds of virtual reality apps that are compatible with iPhone and most other smartphones.

Merge VR is available for £59.95 on Amazon (at the time of writing).

Carl Zeiss VR One

The Carl Zeiss VR One is also compatible with iOS. Using the iPhone’s internal sensors to display the 3D screen and track head movements. But the difference with this headset is that it comes with a tray that can be used specifically for the iPhone 6, Galaxy S5 or S6, or customised to fit other phones when you order. There’s also a see-through front shield, allowing for camera access.

Zeiss claims that the VR ONE creates the equivalent effect of “sitting in the best seat of a theatre or being on stage during a performance with a full 360-degree view”.

The VR ONE is a lot more expensive than its budget bracket competitors, currently listed at £163.84 on Amazon (at the time of writing).

What’s next for Apple in the VR industry?

It’s hard to say where Apple are going with VR. They will no doubt acknowledge they have to respond, but the short-term solution may not be in developing a VR headset as prolific as the iPhone was. However, simply improving the iPhone itself, making it faster with better graphics and higher resolution screens. Beyond that, perhaps we will see yet another ground-breaking device that blows the roof off of the VR market. But don’t hold your breath.