High-intensity exercises like FitXR’s virtual reality (VR) fitness app have increased in popularity, namely during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. Developing the right games for these hardware devices requires optimal ergonomics, interoperability, and ecosystems to incubate a massive community following.
The London, England-based firm has remained a longstanding developer on the Meta Quest 2, but has recently ported its solution to the Pico 4. This crossover aims to expand its stalwart fitness fanbase while leveraging the specifications of ByteDance’s premium consumer headset.
XR Today interviewed Phil Baker, VP of Engineering, FitXR, to discuss how it selected the right VR headsets for its gaming platform.
XR Today: What is FitXR, and what are its benefits to commercial and enterprise end users?
Phil Baker: FitXR is the leading VR fitness app on Meta Quest, and we’ve now launched on PICO. With five immersive studios, FitXR provides its community members with a variety of next-gen and immersive workouts that range in intensity, duration, and skill – with the common ground of movement and fun.
We are a constantly evolving service, adding new features and enhancements to the workout experience each month. Along with these periodic improvements to the core product, we’re committed to keeping exercise feeling exciting and fresh, and to that end, new classes are released every week.
Since we’re dedicated to placing fitness goals within reach for everyone, FitXR recently integrated with big names in fitness tech like Strava, and through this, members can access a more comprehensive snapshot of their fitness journey through shared data.
This stands alongside our belief that a personalised exercise regime is the key to falling in love with fitness and so, besides the huge range of individual classes on offer, we’ve recently extended the number of ways a member can choose to participate by the releasing longer form, multi-session Training Plans in which professional trainers coach players through a series of classes into improving their performance and technique.
XR Today: Can you explain why many companies are expanding to Pico’s headset lineup? What are the benefits of using their hardware and architecture?
Phil Baker: For a developer, some primary considerations in expanding to a different headset are the feasibility and cost of creating a product, with porting an existing product often representing the most appealing solution. A large library of applications exists on Quest 2, for which this is a prospect.
Let’s compare the Pico 4 and Quest 2 from a design perspective. Having consistent input and visualisation capabilities, these devices translate into little effort required to rework an existing product, meaning that future updates and changes to product features will likely apply to both.
On the technical side, the Pico 4 has slightly better resolution than the Quest 2, but they’re otherwise closely comparable in terms of device capabilities and platform functionality. An extra 2GB of RAM as headroom on the Pico 4 further reduces the risk of porting an existing application.
So it’s precisely this parity that makes an expansion from Quest 2 to the Pico 4 an appealing prospect—it incurs a relatively low-performance risk and uplift effort yet brings a host of user and partnership-related opportunities.
Of course, one of those upsides is the expanded potential consumer base, and there are some noticeable differences in form factor, weight, balance and fit. These differentiate the Pico—particularly appealing to users looking for a fitness experience—and should help to drive that expansion, making this an enticing prospect.
Looking beyond the consumer market, Pico has announced that their Pico 4 headsets will soon have PUI-supported business applications, which will allow companies to customize configurations through a visualized interface and API.
This mobile device management (MDM)-type offering, with state-of-the-art hardware, can allow enterprises to be the architects of how VR is incorporated into areas like employee training, education, and intra-company communication. This market is likely to expand over time.
XR Today: Do you believe incentivising the app developer community is a sustainable, long-term benefit to XR?
Phil Baker: App developers creating the experiences for XR are at the heart of what makes the hardware valuable to consumers and establish the reasons for usage. Ensuring that there are sustainable long-term benefits to app developers is the key means to the growth of XR ecosystems.
For XR, as with any new and innovative computing device like the mobile phone, while the features and functions of the hardware are valuable, it’s the apps on these computing devices where the true value, habits and usage are created for the consumer.
Incentives can bring a broader selection of apps more rapidly and with overall greater variety, experimentation, and eventual utility – and thus can bootstrap a critical expansion of users.
There’s always a disruptive benefit from sponsoring innovation, and incentives will always have a role there. Still, using incentives to drive user scale at this particular moment, in time will ultimately be the long-term benefit to XR.
XR Today: How has FitXR remained competitive against other apps such as Supernatural and Liteboxer? Can you explain using FitXR’s UI, dev, and deployment features?
Phil Baker: FitXR has remained competitive owing to its strong pulse on the landscape. It currently has the largest VR fitness offering across the industry, with a robust suite of classes for any user, at any level, with any amount of time.
However, the true key to success is listening to our users and delivering them what they really want. We do that by connecting our fitness domain experts closely with our users.
Firstly, we empower our experts to listen and learn. We do this through a dedication to building and maintaining constant dialogue with our community. We also invest heavily in data and analytics to reason about what might work for our users and to measure outcomes. In a space like VR, which is constantly evolving, there’s always something new to add to the product, but you must carefully reason about what’s right.
Secondly, we strive to create the best, most authentic fitness experience where our coaches can wield their skills as experts to drive actual fitness outcomes in the most engaging and entertaining way possible.
In practical terms, this means devoting effort to building top-of-class internal content creation tooling, content management systems and editors that give as much creative expression to our experts as possible. We want to enable them to build an experience that delivers, where the user feels that they’re close to the coaches as people.
Lastly, we recognise that this is for nothing if we don’t provide a robust and dynamic service so that our coaches, via our service, remain constantly available to our users on demand. We pay close attention to everything from software quality methods to reducing development complexities such as abstracting multiplatform, and we’re constantly iterating on development process agility.
That said, I also believe that increased competition will ultimately be a positive for the wider ecosystem. Of course, my goal is always to stay ahead of the competition, but I also strive to learn from what’s out there to help improve our product and the landscape.
XR Today: What do you believe is crucial to developing the XR user community? How can companies like yours increase adoption rates for VR headset use?
Phil Baker: If we want to advance the XR user community, we have to push forward the mission of accessibility. This will remind users that with a headset, they can work out from anywhere, anytime, for the duration they want. Physical exercise is traditionally associated with going to the gym and sometimes, engaging in mundane workouts around others you have never met.
With a VR headset, those concerns and intimidations are erased. How and when you choose to break a sweat is on your terms. Another vital aspect of XR — arguably the most important — is the ability to escape reality.
As we have seen with Apple’s latest teasers, VR headsets continue evolving. The core of any VR headset is the ability to enter another universe and enhance the activities you enjoy every day, like fitness, watching TV, or streaming your favorite movies.
FitXR can increase the adoption of headsets by showing the public how multifaceted they are, even outside the world of fitness. At FitXR, we have users who are avid gamers and use FitXR as their primary means of exercise, some who are fitness enthusiasts looking for a new way to work out and others who have never entered the worlds of fitness or gaming.
When we were just getting started, we had couples sharing headsets, where one would use it for fitness and the other would as a vessel for the game. Headsets have more than one use, and apps like FitXR show how these headsets are a great tool to break a sweat but also offer so much more, before or after workouts.