Oculus may have officially discontinued its low-end Oculus Go headset last year, but the company has another “official” update to future-proof the hardware. On Thursday, Oculus released an unlocked build of the Oculus Go operating system, allowing “full root access” on more than 2 million existing units.
Oculus “Consulting CTO” (and former co-founder of id Software) John Carmack announced its plans for this update last month, and said it was something he had “pressed for years.” In part, the unlock is an attempt to guarantee that Go hardware will remain fully functional well into the future, enabling “a randomly discovered shrink-wrapped headset twenty years from now.” [to] can update to the final software version long after the over-the-air update servers have been shut down,” Carmack wrote.
But before that, with the update, tinkerers will “use the hardware for more things today,” as Carmack puts it. Go hardware with the unlocked OS no longer checks for a Facebook kernel-level signature, meaning developers can create new versions of low-level system software for the entire Android-based OS. That can allow for custom versions of low-level features like the app launcher and removing otherwise locked system apps. The update also makes it easy to sideload apps outside of the Go store interface, although this was already possible on older OS versions.
Welcome to the afterlife
First released in 2018, the Go was Oculus’ first fully standalone headset, and it was a major evolution of phone-based VR solutions like Samsung’s Gear VR (which Oculus was also working on). While the Go was well-built and relatively fully featured considering its $199 starting price, the hardware was limited by the lack of full positional tracking for the headset and controller. It started to look dated when the more expensive Oculus Quest was released in 2019.
Still, the Go served as a relatively inexpensive entry point for simple VR use cases and can still serve that purpose today. Used units can be found for as little as $100 on eBay, and now users can rest assured that they have full access to those legacy units, with the possibility of new homebrew features and support in the future.
More than that, we hope this kind of official unlock for legacy hardware is a position more companies can get behind from a business philosophy perspective. As we wrote when Nintendo closed its online servers for the Wii and Nintendo DS in 2014:
There’s no reason why continued online support for these consoles should be at the whim of a company that clearly no longer has a financial interest in them. Nintendo and other console and game makers must take steps to release versions of their server code that will allow players to use their own online infrastructure after the company servers become unavailable.
But in practice this is apparently easier said than done. “I hope this sets a precedent for when headsets are no longer supported in the future,” says Carmack tweeted last month† “But damn it, getting all the necessary permissions for this took SO much more effort than you’d expect.”