At Google I/O 2016, Google announced their upcoming VR headset, Daydream. With VR popping up all over the place these days, it’s intriguing to see how Google plans to stand out above the crowd. They already had their hands in the VR game early on with their Cardboard project, which made VR accessible and affordable to anyone with a smartphone. That said, can they be as innovative and far-reaching as Cardboard?
Based on their I/O presentation, Google’s newest VR goal seems to be more focused on experience rather than accessibility. Whereas Cardboard was affordable and could work with virtually any smartphone, Daydream is going to offer such a rich experience, that you will likely need to buy a whole new handset just to meet the minimum requirements which they are calling “Daydream-ready.”
Let’s start back at the beginning of Google’s VR endeavor with Cardboard. It’s pricing structure started at $0 — that’s right, it was and still is free to get. You can take some cardboard you have at the house and use their template to get yourself going. The free version allows you to customize your headset however you’d like. You can also purchase fairly inexpensive versions of the headset, some of which are made from cardboard, and others which encapsulate your childhood with a View Finder shell. All-in-all, the choices are cheap and pretty much unlimited.
Cardboard made strides by being affordable so they could reach as large an audience as possible. They started a project called Google Expeditions Pioneer Program which allows schools to let their students visit places all over the world. It’s way cheaper and easier to coordinate a virtual trip to Dubai rather than actually going. Also, it beats the brakes off looking at pictures in textbooks. Overall, Cardboard took VR to new heights.
Other VR Endeavors
Google obviously isn’t the only player in the VR game. Big companies such as Microsoft, Sony, Samsung, and even Facebook have VR headsets. They each have different end-goals that set them apart from one another, but one is not necessarily more innovative than the others.
Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR are their own devices and seem to be geared more towards gaming VR experiences. They both have compatible controllers for gaming with, but both headsets alone are pretty pricey — running $499.99 to $599.99 each. With such a high price point, the headsets are geared towards gamers and users alike who plan to really put them to good use.
Samsung’s Gear VR wants you to not only experience gaming in a virtual environment, but also watch films and interact with apps such as Netflix and Hulu. Although designed only to work with specific Samsung phones, the Gear VR is far more affordable, starting at only $99.
Microsoft’s HoloLens is offering a different kind of VR experience similar to Google Glass, wherein the user will be able to interact with their real environment with the use of holograms; they are calling it “mixed reality.” You will be able to utilize programs such as Skype to gain a VR experience from the device. However, there is a hefty price tag set at $3000 for the Development Edition that is already shipping to users. The Development Edition is geared at developers who are looking to get involved in building the HoloLens’s future.
With VR going in so many different directions, Google could make its mark in any number of ways. After closer inspection, though, they seem to be pulling from every direction.
Daydream, first and foremost, is going to have a controller. It’s got a very simplistic design, reminiscent of the first Wii remote — it’s small, white, has very few buttons, and is multi-directional. More importantly, in my opinion, is going to be Unreal Engine 4’s involvement. Epic plans to support the Daydream platform with the release of their documentation and instructions for devs to set up a dev kit and build with UE4 on the platform. This alone is very exciting.
Apps and Open Development
Google also wants in on app integration such as YouTube, HBO Now, and Google Street View. Much like Samsung’s Gear VR, they are offering an all-inclusive experience that is not just confined to one facet of VR.
Google is also encouraging developers to get in on Daydream by making the APIs for Unity, Android, and iOS available to devs. However, they have emphasized that development will be geared for Android N, the next Android OS. With that said, are we going to see a pigeon hole for developers looking to build VR experiences for Daydream?
Despite Google’s announcement that Daydream will be geared up for Android N, they have said that there will already be some compatible devices for the headset this Fall from Samsung, LG, Asus, and more. What this does mean, however, is that not all devices will be Daydream-ready like Cardboard offers. In fact, there are going to be several tech specs that will be required for your phone to work with Daydream. Your phone will need to meet the requirements for sensors, display, SOC, performance, latency, and even UI.
So what about your current phone? It sounds like Google is looking to provide the best VR experience they can at the cost of reducing their available audience base. Daydream will limit which phones can be used with the device, meaning that a lot of people may have to stick with Cardboard for now.
So far there has not been a price-point announcement, which means it could be as cheap as Gear or maybe as expensive as Oculus Rift. We just don’t know yet. Daydream doesn’t seem to be doing anything in particular to set themselves apart from the crowd, aside from taking appealing features of existing VR headsets and meshing them all together into a single device. One still can’t help but be excited to see how Epic’s UE4 will play into the devices future, especially since Google has already shown us that gaming will definitely play a role.
Sure, you may have to buy a new phone in order to get any use out of your Daydream, but so what? We are part of a technological culture that feeds off of what’s new and what’s next? We are constantly waiting for the next big OS, the next faster device, and the next unique experience, so buying a new phone to go with Daydream isn’t really asking you to reach very far or very deep into your pockets.
I don’t think that Daydream is going to stand out above its competitors, but I do think that it will be a noteworthy, worthwhile VR device. What do you guys think about Daydream? Let us know in the comments section.