Google Cardboard 3.0 or What’s Next for Google VR?

WITH MORE THAN 5 MILLION UNITS SOLD, GOOGLE CARDBOARD IS THE MOST WIDESPREAD VIRTUAL REALITY HEADSET ON THE MARKET. OF COURSE, THE QUALITY OF THE EXPERIENCE IS NOT COMPARABLE TO THE HIGH-END PRODUCTS LIKE OCULUS RIFT. EVEN SO, THIS SIMPLE DEVICE (IT’S ACTUALLY MADE FROM CARDBOARD) PLAYED A MAJOR PART IN BRINGING VR RIGHT TO THE EDGE OF MAINSTREAM.

Even Google is surprised over the enormous success of Cardboard

When it was first introduced in 2014 people didn’t know what to do with it. It looked cheap and not anything like what Google has put on the market in the past. People were thinking it’s a joke … right until the point when they first tried it out. The simplicity of using a smartphone, a couple of lenses, and a piece of cardboard to experience VR wowed the world. It must be pointed out that Google was not the first one that used a smartphone for VR. We credit this idea to Durovis Dive. It’s also safe to assume that Cardboard would never be as successful as it is today if it wouldn’t have the Google brand behind it. Other companies would probably be laughed off stage trying to pursue VR with a piece of cardboard.

The evolutionary approach to Google Cardboard 2.0

Google presented an improved version of Google Cardboard in 2015. It was actually an evolutional improvement. They got rid of the annoying magnetic button, as it didn’t work properly on some devices. They also scaled up the frame and lenses to enable the use of larger smartphones. They also tried to solve the painful process of assembling version 1.0 by making the version 2.0 preassembled. The only problem with this was that it made G. Cardboard relatively expensive to ship. Even with folded flaps, it was as big as a brick.

So what will Google Cardboard 3.0 be?

Whereas a $20 Google Cardboard 2.0 requires a smartphone to deliver virtual reality experiences (same the $99 Samsung Gear VR), Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PlaystationVR rely on a high-powered PC and a PS4 console to work. Google’s next headset — a.k.a. Google Cardboard 3.0 — will work as a solo bit of kit. It’ll hold all its screen, processing, and motion-sensing tech within its casing. Forward-facing cameras will analyze your surroundings and stop you walking off down the stairs with the headset on. This decision is to allow the headset to be unteathered, rather than the mess of cables that causes Oculus to be a stationary experience. It’s safe to say that this will place them right next so Samsung’s (and Oculus’s) GearVR. There is a bunch of other mid-level VR HMDs out there (e.g. Homido). They are not reaching the levels of traction GearVR got since being offered to the public in December. Deloitte is forecasting that there will be 0.5 million units of GearVR sold in 2016.

Where is Google going?

According to the Financial Times, Google will release the new headset along with better support for virtual-reality programs directly within its mobile operating system, Android. This is a significant indicator of the direction of Google’s VR team — chasing the position of becoming the leading OS for virtual reality. In January, the company also hired Scott Broock, formerly of the virtual reality startup Jaunt, as its Global VR Evangelist for YouTube.

Google Cardboard relies on sensors built into modern smartphones to detect the position of a user’s head. Gear VR is more sturdily built and features extra motion sensors. The updated Google HMD will be compatible with a much broader range of Android devices than Gear VR, which only works with a handful of recent Samsung Galaxy smartphone models. Google is taking the steps to bring the technology to a wider audience.

Google is likely to take a similar approach to its latest push into VR as it has with its Nexus line of smartphones: creating flagship hardware to show off the latest Android capabilities but letting other manufacturers use them to develop their own compatible products. Google typically previews new Android features at its I/O developer conference in May before launching its latest Nexus devices in September, with the VR headset likely to follow that timetable.

What does this mean for Cardboard and the market of low-end VR?

Definitely, Google will dedicate less time and funds to the Cardboard project — or, at least, the »cardboard version« of it. This doesn’t mean anything significant will happen to the market of the low-end VR. Google was actually not responsible for producing and selling Cardboard. This was done by the independent manufacturers all around the world. Google open-sourced the templates and production companies used them to sell »unofficial cardboards«.

There is one thing that will change in the low-end market. These independent companies that relied on Google to provide the improvement will suddenly have to do this by themselves. Now it won’t be possible to just copy what Google is doing. This is something that we are already doing since we first started ViarBox. Sure, we took Google Cardboard as a template to build upon, but now we offer a product, that’s superior to what was introduced in 2014 and 2015.

How did we improve Google’s Cardboard?

There are five major areas of improvement, which make ViarBox one of the best low-end VR HMDs on the market today:

  • Foldable Design — Google Cardboard 1.0 takes a while to assemble & you aren’t able to fold it back together. This means you’re stuck with a rather large cardboard brick that doesn’t fit into your bag, much less in the back pocket of your jeans. The same is with Cardboard 2.0. ViarBox solved this issue with the unique foldable concept. You can assemble and disassemble it seconds.
  • Durability — A large majority of Google’s VR viewer clones aren’t acceptable in terms of durability. Every ViarBox unit is made out of the highest quality cardboard available. On that cardboard we can print any kind of a custom design, making it perfect for branding. But we took it a step further. After print, ViarBox receives a laminated coating for extra protection.
  • Comfortability — There are so many cheap cardboard viewers out there, but no one is paying any particular attention to comfort. Everyone wants to cut the margins of production as much as they can. Google Cardboard can become uncomfortable to wear after a while, especially around the nose arch. It seems like raw cardboard and your nose aren’t exactly best neighbours. We invested some time to find the right answer. We placed a special moisture absorbing foam around the nose arch opening. This three point foam placement protects your sensitive skin from irritation and the cardboard from moisture.
  • Compatibility — ViarBox has been developed in a way that fits almost every smartphone out there. At the moment there are two sizes: normal for smartphones with screen size up to 5.2” and XL variation for bigger phones. We were also one of the first companies not to include the magnetic button, as it doesn’t work with all smartphones out there. On some models, it can also cause picture distortion. The most alluring option is customization.
  • Customization — ViarBox can be branded and customized in every way. After the design is confirmed, it goes into production and in a couple of days it is ready for shipping. Each ViarBox is sent with individual packaging that can also be custom printed. Because of its foldable design and small shipping size we also have the lowest shipping costs of any assembled VR viewer on the market.

Conclusion

While Google might be moving their VR focus from low-end to middle(?), they left an incredible mark on the whole ecosystem with their simplistic device. Cardboard is still the cheapest device to experiment with VR, but I personally believe that consumers will be willing to move to a better and VR dedicated device. ViarBox and other Google Cardboards will stay on the market, but we will slowly start to shift our focus to the B2B market. Here the potential of customization is still a major factor that can’t be scalably achieved otherwise.

Please share your thoughts about what you think is Google’s plan in the comments or ping me on twitter (@jernejmirt /@viarbox). If you want to know more about ViarBox please visit www.viarbox.com (B2B) or www.viarbox.eu (B2C).

Jernej, CEO of VIAR (makers of ViarBox)

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