Oculus looks to improve VR app discovery with content-based search

Oculus is giving developers more options for getting their virtual reality apps in front of the right people.

Until now, owners of Samsung’s Oculus-powered Gear VR headset could only search for apps by name. For example, to find The New York Times’s NYT VR app, a person had to type “nyt” or “nyt vr.” That was fine but limiting. People interested in an app that would take them to space would have a hard time finding that the NYT VR included an experience that put people on Pluto. But like Pluto’s planetary status, that will soon be in the past.

Oculus plans to roll out content-based app search for Gear VR “soon,” said Oculus product manager Florence Koskas during a session at the company’s annual developer conference on Wednesday.

The rollout of content-based app search should help Gear VR owners find more apps to use. According to Koskas, only 40 percent of queries on Gear VR search for apps by name, and the remaining 60 percent of searches are for content types like “football” or “dinosaurs.”

For Oculus to index apps content, developers will need to submit “In-App Content Stories” for each piece of content they would like included in search results. Oculus refers to these as “Stories,” but instead of being another copy of Snapchat’s flagship feature, they are simply versions of a typical app listing that can be tailored by the developer, as detailed on Oculus’s developer site.

As with a regular app listing, In-App Content Stories feature an app’s title, description, image and optional video trailer, but they also deep-link to a specific piece of content in the app. That way, someone searching “pluto” can select NYT VR from the search results, tap to install the app, and then open directly into the app’s Pluto experience.

Manually creating In-App Content Stories might be too much work for older apps that have a lot of content. So Oculus will also offer an API for developers to automate the process. That API began to roll out in beta on Wednesday, said Oculus technical program manager Shirley Ai.

In addition to In-App Content Stories, Oculus unveiled other types of “Stories” that developers can fill out to highlight specific aspects of their apps. With Event Stories, developers can showcase scheduled events hosted in their app, such as a concert livestream or gaming tournament. And with Announcement Stories, developers can surface new features of their apps, like new gaming levels or in-app sales.

Unlike In-App Content Stories, Announcement Stories and Event Stories will not affect how an app appears in search results. Instead they will appear within Oculus Explore, a section that features apps that reflect a person’s interests, based on the apps they have installed. In-App Content Stories that include a trailer video will also appear within Explore, in addition to search, and Event Stories will similarly also appear in a section called Oculus Events that highlights time-specific experiences.

While the new app discovery features will initially be limited to Gear VR, they should eventually make their way to Oculus’s high-end Rift headset. During Oculus Connect’s opening keynote on Wednesday, Oculus product manager Christina Womack said that Oculus will extend Gear VR’s Explore section to Rift next year.


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