R.I.P., Google Cardboard
Google’s new Pixel Phone and Daydream View headset go hand in hand for an accessible VR experience.
Google has added a new virtual reality headset to the mix, but this one has a very different feel from others on the market.
Daydream View, a $79 headset unveiled by the company on Tuesday, has the same basic design as many other mobile VR headsets. The front opens up to allow you to slide in a phone—either Google’s new Pixel phone or any of the incoming Daydream-compatible phones from Android partners. After you strap it to your head, you peer at the phone through two lenses that help create the impression of a 360-degree screen.
The first thing that sets it apart is the fact that it’s made from materials you’re likely to find in clothing—about as far as you can get from the plastic and foam construction of its competitors. The headset also comes with a remote. The palm-sized device has a clickable touch pad and two buttons, but can also be moved, pointed, and swung for motion-based interaction with the headset. Tapping on the side of Samsung’s Gear VR headset has never felt particularly comfortable or intuitive. Google Cardboard really only has one button, limiting what you can do. This one will make interaction much easier for games and scrolling through the headset’s user interface.
The second and by far the biggest difference from Daydream View’s competitors is in the phone that slips into it and the software behind it.
The beautiful design, cohesive software, and app store experience in Apple’s iPhones drove much of the innovation in the first phase in smartphones. Google’s Pixel phone marks the arrival of the next phase.
Our phones are now a central part of our lives, but Google has reimagined how they fit in with the rest of our technology. Pixel, which starts at $649, puts a virtual assistant at its core. You can ask it to make a dinner reservation, look up show times and calculate the driving distance between the restaurant and the theater. It’s a bot that pulls together the intelligence from all of your apps and makes them accessible in one place (see "Google's Assistant Is More Ambitious Than Siri and Alexa").
“AI could be a game changer for VR as it allows us to skip the tedious launching of apps and think about getting experiences delivered to you as soon as you ask, in a highly immersive way,” says Jon Mann, UX design director at design consultancy firm Artefact.
Alongside Daydream View and Pixel, Google also introduced a new Chromecast dongle and Home—a countertop assistance device similar to Amazon Echo. It’s one big ecosystem that lets you switch to whatever screen makes the most sense for a particular moment. A VR headset is no longer a novelty accessory that you can pick up and fidget around with on your own time. It’s a core piece of Google’s new lineup.
So what about Cardboard? It’s unlikely the low-cost VR headset will go away. VR has yet to gain a foothold in every house in the nation, so it’s still useful for the New York Times and other companies to be able to ship out cheap headsets by the thousands. But Daydream View is such a simple add-on for Pixel and other Daydream-compatible phones that Cardboard can finally begin its descent into irrelevance.