Google Daydream VR: What Brands and Developers Need to Know

by: | Jun 1, 2016

Virtual reality for the masses may not be just a dream for long, despite the name of Google’s new Daydream VR platform. When Google announced Daydream at the recent I/O developer conference, it was an indication that the VR industry is growing up fast.

Google’s foray into virtual reality started with Cardboard, when the company handed out units to attendees at the 2014 I/O conference. The “bizarre plunge” into VR, as Wired magazine wrote at the time, was “a slightly odd sideshow at a conference where the company typically doled out millions of dollars in phones, tablets, and other electronic gear.”

But fast forward two years, and Google has reportedly sold more than 5,000 units of its paper-based Cardboard viewer and there are more than 1,000 apps available for Cardboard users. With Cardboard, anyone with a smartphone could have some interesting VR experiences. Those experiences, however, are limited to short sessions and there’s very limited interaction with content because of the lack of input on Cardboard. Ultimately, it falls well short of the immersive, interactive experience hyped by those in the industry for years.

Maturing VR category gets step-up platform

One of the signs of a maturing market is when vendors create products that fit into different pricing and performance tiers. While Cardboard has offered up an entry-level experience to give users a taste of virtual reality, the step up to the high-end Oculus Rift (at $599) is a big leap. And while the Samsung Gear VR (at $99) is trying to offer a middle ground, the somewhat limited virtual reality content and the lack of an ecosystem has held both Gear VR and Oculus Rift back. That’s where Google and Daydream VR come in, promising a mid-range hardware technology ecosystem, developer tools and great content to match.

As the Verge put it, “After two years, Google wants a mobile VR platform that doesn’t just introduce people to virtual reality but makes them want to stay there.”

Unlike Cardboard, Daydream VR is more platform than product. There are three main components to the platform — a standard for phones, a specification for an accompanying VR headset and remote, and tools for developers to create VR content.

Daydream VR phone certification

Though Daydream, like Cardboard, leverages phone hardware, Google will have a certification process that requires Daydream-approved phones to include VR-friendly components. Google announced at I/O that Samsung, HTC, LG, and Huawei, among others, were already planning to build Daydream capable phones.

Specifications include high standards for screen refresh rate and resolution, and precise tracking sensors. These standards promise to give developers the ability to offer more fast-paced experiences, and to help users avoid motion sickness during extended use.

Headset and remote specification

Google’s specification for headsets will encourage hardware partners to build comfortable, and ergonomic Daydream VR headsets — along with a companion motion controller. The controller spec is very similar to the Nintendo Wii remote and the new Apple TV Siri Remote. Daydream remotes must include position tracking, along with a touchpad and two buttons. These controls will enable a whole new level of interaction, as shown by Google’s demonstration of a fishing game at its keynote address, where the controller is the fishing rod.

Content is king — especially for VR

The coming release of Android N promises Daydream-ready versions of several popular apps, including the Google Play Store and YouTube. The Google Play VR library will be visible as you launch into Daydream, so you never have to leave virtual reality to jump from app to app. It will also support notifications from other apps so users can remain in VR mode for extended periods of time — either watching videos, playing games or just browsing the web while listening to their favorite music. Cardboard apps were mainly guided tours, with little to no user interaction nor a 3D directory.

There were some great apps built for Cardboard that can now go much further with Daydream VR, thanks to the more capable hardware. For example, in the Cardboard version of Titans of Space, you can tour our solar system in a self-driven spaceship. With Daydream, Titans of Space could in theory include a user controlled spaceship where you could freely roam our planets at your pace.

Google Daydream VR: What it means for developers

Technical details are sparse now, but Google will offer developers plenty of resources — likely available when Android N is released in the fall — to start building VR experiences. While developers don’t currently have any third-party Daydream hardware available, Google said the Nexus 6P is the best existing reference. The new SDK will be called Google VR SDK, and it will support both Cardboard and Daydream, which will mean Cardboard developers will have an easier time building VR experiences for Daydream.

Google Daydream VR: What it means for brands

Gaming applications will almost certainly lead the charge into the Daydream VR platform, and Google is already working with Unity and Epic (Unreal) to leverage their game development engines. But there’s also enormous potential for brands to build new kinds of immersive and interactive experiences for customers within Daydream.

Think of a car manufacturer providing a virtual test drive of their newest models. Or a hotel chain offering a virtual tour of its luxury resorts in exotic destinations. Brands can have kiosks in malls with VR experiences for everyone to try. Media companies like Netflix and Disney will almost certainly bring their top franchises, movies and shows to the new platform — and enable different ways for users to interact with the content. The possibilities with this step-up platform for VR are almost endless.

If you didn’t think virtual reality was truly going to be a reality for the masses, it’s time to think again. And if you are wondering how best to use virtual reality for your company or customers, we’re happy to help make it a reality. Contact us and we’ll set up a time to talk.