Google announces virtual reality focus and key executive. The group will be headed by Clay Bavor, former vice president for product management who was in charge of the company’s apps such as Drive, Docs, Gmail, and most importantly, Cardboard – the super accessible device that transforms a smartphone into an entry-level virtual reality headset.
Given that Facebook just announced that their Oculus Rift, a high-end VR headset, is available for pre-orders, with shipping starting in March, and HTC’s Vive is helming the 29th of February pre-order date and an April delivery, the assumption is that Google is trying to catch-up.
However, is Cardboard enough to entice consumers to give virtual reality a try?
Cardboards can be purchased for less than $10 a pop, and schematics for the device are online, for free. It’s not just a cute, and easy to make DIY project, but for 10 bucks, it’s cheap enough to be an impulse buy, and also accessible for companies to offer them for free – exactly like The New York Times did last year.
The New York Times gave away 1 million Cardboards to their subscribers. Both to jumpstart the trend, but also to promote The Displaced – a documentary that provides an immersive virtual reality experience.
Times CEO Mark Thompson has said that the campaign was a huge success. It was so big that the company has committed to produce VR content.
The Times made money out of VR in 2015, says Thompson, and they are expecting to turn a profit in 2016 as well.
The Displaced VR campaign doesn’t only prove that VR is just ripe, but also that Google’s Cardboard is the perfect choice for newcomers to the medium, and also to hobbyists, that don’t want to shell $599 – the price of an Oculus Rift; to experience a virtual world.
Cardboard is aimed at smartphones, and some think that the mobile industry won’t bode well with VR – even though it’s a huge accessible platform.
The debate is that high-end virtual reality is for powerful machines not for mere smartphones. Palmer Luckey of Oculus Rift has said that in order for the VR headset to work, the user will need a computer priced between $500 and $1000.
Dell’s Alienware department has started bundling Oculus Rift and computers. They are available for pre-orders right now, and they shave $200 off of the VR headset’s base price.
Yet, Googles doesn’t put all its eggs in one basket and almost two years ago, it invested about $542 million in Magic Leap, a company focused on Augmented Reality. It isn’t that hard to imagine that VR will eventually intersect with AR development.
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