It was announced yesterday at the New York Toy Fair that Mattel’s View-Master is ditching the film ‘reels’ and partnering with Google “to deliver an affordable, kid-friendly immersive digital experience” using a chunky plastic version of Google’s Cardboard smartphone viewer for educational VR experiences.
Rifting on an already well-established concept, which dates back to the wooden stereoscopes of the early 1800s, the View-Master 1939 design offered the mass market a compact and affordable way to virtually tour the world through stereoscopic 3D pictures, one that because of the rugged design and cheap materials, soon found its way into the hands of children.
Mattel wants to honor this tradition by partnering with Google to produce a new View-Master, one that like Google’s Cardboard VR viewer, uses the graphical power and display of a user-owned Android smartphone to drive VR experiences. With its iconic red and orange construction, the updated View-Master is both a physical product as well as a software platform that is targeted towards kids to deliver age-appropriate content, so children can “explore and learn about famous places, landmarks, nature, planets and more in 360 degree photospheres” that also promises to be interactive when pairing the View-Master’s ‘experience reel’ and special Android app.
‘Experience reels’ may look like the old cardboard stereoscopic reels, but through a yet unreleased method (likely NFC badges that allow access to proprietary downloads) include adventure and science-oriented destinations, each with multiple areas for explorations.
Just what age group Mattel is aiming for with their new smartphone adapter, has also yet to be revealed. The notable absence however of an included head strap indicates that like Cardboard, the device is meant for short bursts of VR content consumption, a fact that might assay the Consumer Product Safety Commission from wording the View-Master’s inevitable health and safety warning too strongly.
A video from the Google-dedicated site, 9 to 5 Google, shows a brief encounter with the prototype View-Master, that according to ‘9 to 5’ will also be compatible with iOS devices by Christmas 2015.
The new virtual reality View-Master is coming out in the fall of 2015, retailing at an MSRP of $29.99 for the viewer and included sample ‘experience reel’, an accessory to be sold separately in $15 packs in the future. The low cost (minus the investment in the smartphone driving the device) and trusted kid-friendly design of Mattel’s products, will without a doubt put the new View-Master in a position to become a ‘VR first’ for many.