Daydream Is Google's Plan to Conquer Virtual Reality With Android

Reference design for a Daydream headset
Reference design for a Daydream headset

After years of dabbling, Google is getting serious about virtual reality. Meet Daydream, Google’s three-part plan to take the VR world by storm with Android.

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Google publicly waded into the VR world a few years ago with its cheap Google Cardboard viewer, which has sold some 5 million units to date. Last year, it launched “Jump,” an end-to-end solution for creating, producing, and playing back 360 video content. Today, Google takes the next step on mobile phone-based VR, with new VR-specific features baked right into the Android operating system. The three-part plan includes phones, headsets, and the new Daydream content ecosystem.

From the smartphone point of view, Google is incorporating a new “VR Mode” directly into Android N, which optimizes the phone’s performance and user interface for use in Cardboard viewers. Notifications will show up properly—even in VR—and the phone’s display will respond with blistering 20ms latency.

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Google’s reference design for a Daydream controller
Google’s reference design for a Daydream controller

Though Google’s not actually producing a competitor to Oculus Rift or Gear VR, it’s releasing a reference design for a VR headset and controller that will be made available to third-party manufacturers. The company is showing off the design at I/O. But beyond having a phone holder and a strap, it’s not clear how exactly it’ll be different from competing systems.

How Google wants the new controller to work

The third part of the plan involves a special version of Google Play designed specifically for VR. You’ll be able to shop for VR apps and experiences directly from VR mode. Partners include a lot of obvious players like The New York Times, Hulu, Netflix, and others. Google-branded apps like Movies will also be available. Google has also built a special app launcher for VR called Daydream Home.

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Daydream arrives this fall, with developer previews dropping today. Oculus, watch your back.

Deputy editor at Gizmodo

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DISCUSSION

conlawhero
ConLawHero

One thing Google needs to address with Cardboard, and future VR endeavors, is the lack of head tracking. Gyroscopes and accelerometers are horrific at tracking. Using Google Cardboard for, well, just about anything now is almost a guaranteed nauseating experience. The problem is the stupid headset drifts too much.

Typically, if you start at 0 degrees, by the end of some roller coaster-ish app, you’ll be about about 45 degrees by the end. Some apps solve this by allowing the user to click a button (on the Cardboard or a bluetooth controller) which brings your vision back to 0 degrees.

If Google wants to make headway into VR, they need to solve this problem. Because Google Cardboard, and it sounds like their future VR stuff too, is so highly accessible because nearly everyone has a smartphone, they need to step up their game or people are going to try VR, assuming all VR is like this, then run, screaming for the hills.

I’m a huge VR supporter (starting a company with some devs doing VR), but Google Cardboard makes me sick beyond belief. It’s a novelty right now, that needs to get better or Google might single handedly doom VR.