Google is sending the message that virtual reality (VR) is ready, it’s affordable and it’s for everyone, a report said.
Google’s product, unveiled at its developer conference in June, is called Cardboard, and it’s exactly that. The concept is shockingly simple. With an Android phone and a few bucks for materials (cardboard, lenses, a magnet, a rubber band and velcro), virtual reality is available to the masses, right now, CNBC said.
“Where we are in the whole VR space, consumers need a Model T Ford, they don’t need a Lamborghini, ” said Patrick Buckley, co-founder of DODOcase, a San Francisco-based company that got its start making iPad cases in 2010 and now sells Cardboard headsets. “There are 2 billion smartphones in the world that are basically VR devices, and consumers don’t realize it”, the report said.
There’s palpable excitement brimming among a vocal VR community that’s been longing for the day when passion projects could become viable businesses. From builders of stereoscopic panoramic cameras and motion controllers on the hardware side to developers of applications for virtually watching concerts, visiting museums, teaching remotely and storytelling, more techies are rallying aroundCardboard, CNBC said.
It’s already gaining significant traction. In December, six months after the introduction, Google said that more than 500, 000 Cardboard headsets were in users’ hands, according to the report,
Google, incidentally, is not the main manufacturer, leaving that task to others. DODOcase, which makes cases for mobile devices, jumped on the opportunity right away, and has sold more than 125, 000 viewers at up to $25 a piece. Another, Knoxlabs, started by an entrepreneur in Los Angeles, is making similarly priced cardboard headsets, and has sold around 10, 000 units. Knoxlabs also has an aluminium viewer that will go on sale for $45 this week, CNBC said.
“There’s a very low bar for people to take their Android device and unlock a new set of experiences they never had access to, ” said Andrew Nartker, a product manager for Cardboard. “There are new areas of interesting storytelling and development and content creation that developers can get excited about.”
Android has more than 200 VR apps in its Play Store, with some of the more popular ones easily found through the Cardboard shortcut, the report said.
While numerous VR apps are available on Android phones today, technical challenges stand between Cardboard as a novelty and it becoming the next big media platform. VR viewing is data heavy, which could challenge phone batteries, and the apps are big enough to clog up and slow down devices, said CNBC.
Smartphones still don’t have the horsepower and sophistication needed for the kind of user that Facebook’s Oculus is targeting. Positional tracking, for example, which enables the user to move any direction within the virtual world, isn’t supported in Cardboard, the report said.
The market is so nascent that, aside from headset sales, there’s currently very little revenue to go around. Some VR apps in the Google store cost $1 or so, but most are free, according to CNBC.
“These are going to be pervasive, ” said Peter Oberdorfer, president of San Francisco-based Tactic, which is building its own VR camera and also partnering with brands to help produce content. “We can provide a similar experience to what you do on one of these much more expensive and rare platforms on something that could essentially be a giveaway”, the report said.