8 Things To Look For At Google I/O’s VR Announcement
OK, I get it. You’re sick of conferences, trade shows and expos. 2016 was supposed to be the year of VR, your Rift still isn’t even here and it seems like every day there’s ten new VR announcements and none of them have really been game-changers since HTC announced the Vive 16 months ago. But this Google I/O is shaping up to be the biggest event for VR in over a year.
It seems that Google may have been playing chess while everyone else plays checkers.
Through Cardboard, Google has already exposed more people to VR than every other VR headset combined. Sure, Cardboard doesn’t provide the same jaw-dropping presence of Budget Cuts in the Vive, but it’s still the been the first taste of VR for millions of people.
And now Google is poised to bring native VR support to the hundreds of millions of Android devices worldwide. On top of that, they’re looking to bring a self contained Android powered VR headset which doesn’t require a PC or a phone.
This is a market segment with huge potential growth that none of the major players have even touched.
They’re going to do all of this with the full support of Google’s army of software developers and engineers. There is no other company on earth that can bring together the sheer bravado and resources necessary across so many different VR use cases.
And that’s not to mention a few aces they might have up their sleeve. There are a couple game changing possibilities which could make AndroidVR the player to beat (at least until Sony drops the PSVR).
Without further adieu, here are our top eight most important things to watch for at this week’s Google I/O. These range from safe bets to our personal tinfoil hat theories. Enjoy!
#8 Android VR brings the world’s most popular mobile OS to VR
Probability: Near Certain
This week, Google is (heavily) rumored to unveil Android VR, their virtual reality operating system.
For VR and AR to reach any sort of widespread success, we need a proper VR operating system which allows us to find and launch new applications, manage our devices and otherwise serve as the nexus of all VR activities. Every great computing paradigm has been accompanied by a fundamental rethinking of the ways in which we interact with our.
As of now, the closest thing we have to a VR operating system is Oculus Home, which is functional but does not truly feel like a fully fledged operating system for the VR era.
From the mouse pointer, click and stackable windows of the GUI to the pinch and grab and scroll of touchscreens, each great computing interface not only changes the way we organize information, but the way we physically interact with it.
VR is lacking this design language and the operating system that underlies it. If Android VR can rise to fill this void it will assume the role that Microsoft had during the PC era or Apple did during the mobile era — the lead / default platform for any developer.
What is this VR OS going to look like? No one knows yet and even in this first iteration it’s unlikely that we’ll know for sure. If you want a sneak peak into the future, check out this fantastic video by VR UX researcher Mike Alger, now at Google.
#7 A Standalone Android VR Headset Brings Mid-Range VR Performance to the Masses
Probability: Near Certain
Impact: Game-changer (if it sells)
Not much is known about Google’s standalone VR headset aside from the fact that we’ll see it exists this week. The idea of it being standalone system is an interesting one, and it raises the question of whether or not it will run the same flavor of AndroidVR as phone-dependent headsets.
If their standalone headset offers a high quality immersive experience at a reasonable price, Google may effectively create a new tier of VR systems lying somewhere in between the realm of entry level mobile VR like the GearVR and the high end tier like Vive/Oculus.
#6 Mobile Positional Tracking — Presence Without a PC
Probability: Moderately High
Impact: Most important thing on this list. Takes mobile VR from a gimped experience to powerful, full fledged VR.
The best thing about mobile VR is the sheer freedom and convenience of wearing a totally untethered headset.
The worst thing is taking a step forward and not having the world around you move an inch (nausea city).
Positional tracking in VR means that the system tracks your movements in six degrees of freedom, not just rotational movements. With positional tracked VR, you can duck under virtual pipes, peer around virtual corners and jump to the side to dodge virtual projectiles.
There are two key benefits of positional tracking — it’s a massive presence multiplier and it significantly decreases sim sickness. Unfortunately, positional tracking has been mostly left to tethered VR experiences due to the insane technical difficulty of tracking a mobile headset.
So why do we think Google has what it takes?
#5 Project Tango Takes The Spotlight
Impact: See Mobile Positional Tracking
Project Tango is a depth sensing motion sensor that can track phone’s in full six degrees of motion. The first tango enabled phone will be out this year with others (!) soon to follow
Tango has a huge presence this year at I/O, with session a session called “6 Degrees of Freedom Gaming in Android with Project Tango”. And while that session doesn’t explicitly mention VR, it is filed under VR talks in the schedule listing.
Imagine a mobile, Vive like experience that you can play anywhere. If we see mobile VR with positional tracking, Google will find themselves miles above the rest of their mobile VR competitors.
#4 It Takes Two to Tango — HTC and Google Team Up for a VR Focused Nexus Phone
Probability: Low — Moderate
Call this the top choice for our wishlist. Reports show that HTC may in fact be working on two Nexus phones for Android N, called M1 and S1 respectively.
With serious developing chops from developing the Vive, HTC is a natural fit for manufacturing the next generation of VR-compatible Nexus devices.
A partnership with Google could help HTC snap up a large share of the mobile VR market, giving both Google and HTC a platform on which to challenge Samsung and Oculus’s GearVR. Throw in Google Tango and AndroidVR and you’ve got yourself a fierce competitor.
Positional tracking on a mobile headset powered by HTC is not only something desirable, it’s almost a necessity. HTC has become synonymous with room scale virtual reality, and a mobile offering, although powered by a different OS, could only bolster the sales of its high-end Vive.
Equally as important as the hardware that will launch with AndroidVR is the app ecosystem that will complement it. Expect Google to shine here, for a number of reasons.
Probability: Very Likely
Impact: See below
Google’s early acquisition of Youtube has given them a huge competitive edge in the past, and now is no exception. It’s no secret that Youtube has been steadily positioning itself as a leader in hosting 360 video content.
Their partnership with GoPro in creating one of the first professional stereoscopic 3D 360 cameras, the Odyssey, was a clear indication that they see video content as a huge component of their VR experience.
Youtube360 on a VR headset is like Gmail for a smartphone: You’re going to want it, regardless of your platform.
And while I’m certain we’ll see Youtube360 on different VR ecosystems like the Oculus, Vive, or GearVR within a short period of time, you can be certain that it will be AndroidVR exclusive starting out.
Currently, Oculus Video and Samsung’s MilkVR, and other third party distributors are just some of the ways to view 360 content. With a dedicated Youtube VR app, that space is about get a whole lot more competitive.
We’ll see just how integral Google sees Youtube360 to their VR offerings and good practices for developing VR Video content throughout several keynotes.
#2 Play Store VR
Impact: Mid To Large
Of course, a strong app ecosystem needs a place to live. For Google, the choice is simple: Play Store VR. While we don’t expect to see anything groundbreaking here, you can bet we’ll see a sleek new user interface that showcases VR content.
With an existing library of cardboard apps and 3D movies, Google’s content offering and distribution mechanism is rivaled by few.
Stretch: A well placed fingerprint scanner on new hardware could enable easier access to mobile VR content through Android Pay. With microtransactions sure to be an eventual part of VR experiences, early integration with Android Pay could help Google establish more consistent payment models for monetized applications.
#1 Tiltbrush on Android VR (with a VR-y important twist — hand controllers)
Probability: Strong tinfoil
We were a bit puzzled last year when Google swooped in and bought the developers of Tilt Brush, a fantastic virtual reality painting application. Not because Tilt Brush isn’t great (spoiler — it is), but because it is simply impossible to play Tilt Brush on Cardboard VR headsets.
Tilt Brush requires you to be able to use your hands to interact with the environment around you in order to paint. So that means that in order for Tilt Brush to get onto Android VR, we wouldn’t just need positional tracking.
We’d also need hand tracked motion controllers like those made for the Vive.
Now, motion controllers aren’t totally outside the realm of possibility for mobile VR. There’s been strong talks of Samsung coming out with motion controllers for several months.
But if we look at the possibilities for this I/O, from a new OS for VR, positional tracking on mobile, a standalone VR headset and the hope for hand tracked motion controllers on VR, we see something very special taking place. All of the pieces of Google’s puzzle are beginning to show us that VR has a serious place in the future of the company.
With Google fully onboard, the VR market adoption rate curve could be seriously accelerated. Google has the smarts and the skills to deploy a product like this worldwide at scales we weren’t anticipating for years with systems like the Rift and the Vive. And we can’t wait to see what comes next.
What are your predictions? Let us know what you expect to see in the comments below!
DCVR was founded in 2014 and draws upon a diverse mix industries in the region to create a Virtual Reality community in the nation’s capitol.
Article by Jason Ganz and Joey Cathey