Cardboard, the virtual reality platform developed by Google for use as an inexpensive head-mount for smartphones, has given the masses access to affordable virtual reality (VR).
Though the cardboard head-mounted displays provide a relatively low-level VR experience, they provide an alternative to the high end head-mounts such as Rift (US$600) or the Vive ($900). Google is now hoping to gather novel and nebulous ideas surrounding mobile VR into a cohesive ecosystem, with the launch of its latest Daydream software.
The upcoming version of Android, labeled so far as Android N, will bake Daydream and its VR tools into the operating system so that users will have the ability to switch between a traditional user interface and VR mode. With Cardboard's cogs already in place, such as VR versions of Street View and YouTube, Google is expected to launch Daydream with a healthy amount of content. Daydream-compatible apps from CNN, HBO Now, MLB.com, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, Hulu, Netflix and IMAX are also believed to be heading for the platform.
As for hardware, Google has given top device manufacturers standards for developing Daydream-ready smartphones and headsets to hold them. Vendors selling the headsets will be required to package them with the Daydream remote control.
Despite the presence of high-quality fancy headsets, Cardboard has become the world's most successfl VR platform. According to Google, Cardboard app downloads have surpassed the 50 million mark.
Those numbers are telling. Ultimately, Google has been looking to solve one of VR's most fundamental problems. While high-end developers like Oculus and HTC have worked to create headsets that provide highly immersive experiences, these pieces of hardware with the additional computer power needed to support them have price-tags that make them unaffordable to the general public. By contrast, the roughly $30 Cardboard has made VR a reality for the masses. Google is betting that mobile will be the key to VR proliferation, rather than desktop or console-based hardware like Oculus.