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How Do VR Headsets Work Without An Action Button?

Google Cardboard was one of the first ridiculously cheap ways for people to experience virtual reality. It’s cardboard material might raise questions as to its durability and long term use but there is no denying that the device made VR apps more accessible for everyone. Since then, many other VR headsets made by smaller manufacturers to big names like Samsung have entered the market. With some of these other headsets, you might notice a small design and feature difference i.e., some headsets do not have an action button. This might raise the question as to how you will ‘navigate’ a VR app if your headset doesn’t have an action button which, frankly, quite a few don’t. You might even wonder if what you’re getting is a substandard device. Here’s how a VR headset without an action button works and the implications of buying one.

For those who don’t know what the action button on Google Cardboard does, it’s how you interact with a VR app when you’re phone is inserted inside the headset. The button lets you ‘click’ or ‘tap’ elements in the app without having to remove your phone from the headset. It’s a magnetic button located at the side (image courtesy Google Developers) which, when you spin, will send a signal to your phone.


In the absence of this button, how does a user interact with a VR headset? The solution resides with the VR app that you use. VR apps use ‘head movement focus’ to allow the user to interact with elements inside a VR app. An element that a user can interact with is highlighted in the UI and when the user focuses on it, usually with a sniper-like cross-hair cursor that appears on the screen, the app records it as input. A user must focus on the spot for a short interval for it to register as input. Take for example the following screen from the iOS game Zombie Shooter VR.

Notice the cross-hair that is aimed at the circle inside the door. When the circle completes, the door opens. The user must remain focused on this spot until the circle is complete for the app to register it as an input.


The game, as its name implies, is a shooting game. To play it, the user must focus on their target. The app simulates walking and gunshots on its own.

What this means is that even if your VR headset doesn’t have an action button, it will still function perfectly well. There will be some exceptions though. For apps that don’t support head focus control, you are in for a lesser experience. It is possible that you simply cannot use the app with your VR headset. The good news is that apps like that are rare to come by. Most will let you focus and send input with your head movements since the app makers will want people to use their app regardless of how expensive or cheap their VR headset is. All in all, if your headset doesn’t have an action button, you aren’t missing out on too much.


  1. I have a pre-IR code Google Cardboard with flimsy single headband and two flat round magnets, the inside of which should be glued tight lest it fall off and damage your phone, which is also why there should be side flaps to hold your phone in place if you tilt to exit the Cardboard app. My plastic VR Park headset lacks a camera hole for gesture control, but no app i’ve found uses that and my Sony Xperia Z5 Premium cam didn’t match up with the Cardboard’s hole either, nor does its magnetometer with the magnets. Holding and moving one magnet near the bottom of the phone worked, but the tilt didn’t while it was upsidedown. You could also try to wall-eye the phone without glasses and touch the screen to click in the Cardboard app, but you will see outside the lens area and have less 3D. I’m still looking for an app that has pop up 3D instead of depth, which should be possible with crosseyed viewing.

  2. This is no solution to the problem. Games like VR Flight Sim which use the action button to fire are useless on these headsets with no button. You can work around this by opening the camera window on some of these and poking your finger around to touch the front of the screen which will do the same thing as the action button. I also drilled a hole in the bottom of the headset so I could poke my finger on the screen. You just have to be able to touch the screen anywhere to trigger the action button.

  3. I have third party RV glasses, and when the game starts and you’re in a room with a window, I just can’t do nothing. Any suggestions?

    • Have you tried holding a normal (ferrite) magnet near the bottom of the horizontal phone and moving it up and down? You can find the status and location of your magnetometer using an app like Sensors Multitool.

  4. The trick dont work with Spectra Optics G-01 3D VR Glasses and Nexus 6P. Can do nothing with the app Goole Cardbore.

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