Google have been floating at the periphery of serious commitment to virtual reality since the launch of their ultra low-cost Android Cardboard VR platform in 2014. But this year’s Google I/O session schedule indicates it’s about to throw some real weight behind the technology in 2016 and beyond.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost two years since technology giant Google launched a most unlikely assault on the then still germinating virtual reality garden. Cardboard promised, and delivered, the lowest possible barrier of entry to the world of immersive entertainment. All you needed was a capable smartphone running Android and a cardboard kit.

As projects go, it wasn’t wholly original (Palmer Luckey had himself had a hand in something similar at USC in 2012, prior to founding Oculus), but it was expertly envisioned and executed and its impact was unquestionably significant. Whether you’re of the opinion that Cardboard “poisoned the well” of virtual reality, by offering a potentially variable experience based on hardware capability, it feels as if Cardboard has played a generally positive role in introducing ordinary people to VR. Hell, even McDonald’s and Coca Cola got in on the act last year, bring Cardboard compatible viewers to their promotional campaigns.


But that stellar opening from Google never really felt as if it was followed through on. Yes, we had plenty of support from developers rushing to support the platform (some good, a lot of bad). And yes, Cardboard units in various forms have shipped in their millions. But two years on, Google’s only official virtual reality platform has not changed much fundamentally since its original inception.

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We have seen Google owned YouTube iterate their support for 360 video over that time. And news from Google’s Jump initiative, a hardware and software platform to aid and enable VR video production, which launched at last year’s I/O conference, was certainly welcome. But Google’s will to creating a sequel to Cardboard, one that can rival experiences already being produced by Android-based headsets like Gear VR, is difficult to gauge right now.

google jump vr camera
Google’s First ‘Jump’ 360 Camera Array the ‘Oddyssey’

It looks like might be about to change next month, as the schedule for this year’s I/O conference due to take place from May 18 has now been released, revealing a dedicated, hour long session entitled “VR at Google” with the tantalising subtitle “Google’s vision for VR: what we have built, what we have learned, and where we are headed,” presented by Google’s new Vice President of Virtual Reality.

Google’s appointment of Bavor to his newest position last year, one that he seemed to have been doing some time anyway, was significant in that it gave some focus and definition to the company’s VR efforts and sent a message that they were serious about it. Next month, Bavor gets to outline his division’s plans for virtual reality. What might that be? We don’t know yet, although the lack of ‘Cardboard’ in the description may indicate we’re in for something wholly new.

Bavor told Road to VR’s Ben Lang and last year’s I/O conference that Google now has a dedicated virtual reality team that’s “bigger than you might expect,” going on to tease that Google is “working on things not made out of cardboard,” hinting that the next iteration of the company’s VR smartphone adapters may be heading toward a consumer-level of fit and finish. “That’s not at all where our ambitions end,” he said about the Cardboard headset itself.

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Google's Clay Bavor
Google’s Clay Bavor

In terms of speculation, we’re hoping for something which gives developers a more performance platform, something which can at least rival the likes of Gear VR in experience – which, to many, is where the minimum experiential bar of truly compelling VR stands at this point. Perhaps a minimum specification and certification system for Android hardware to ensure that, like consoles and to an extent PCs, developers can target something defined. What about entirely standalone Android based VR headsets, like those from GameFace Labs that don’t require phones but are dedicated to good mobile, untethered VR experiences? Finally, perhaps we might see an experiential ratings and curation system, similar to that present in Oculus Share and Home, which filters nauseating and poorly produced content out before it reached the consumer.

But what about you? What do fans (or detractors) of Cardboard want to see next from Google? What do you as a consumer want to see next from mobile VR platforms? If you’re a developer, how can Google make it easier for you to create VR content and your business case for doing so more compelling? We’d love to hear your thought below in the comments section.

Mobile, or at least untethered, VR is widely regarded as the next logical destination for virtual reality hardware evolution. For that evolution to accelerate, we need the major players in the existing mobile operating system space, both Google and Apple, to commit to virtual reality in a big way. If we’re to reach the dream of pocket-able VR systems that are wireless and worn like glasses, this has to happen.

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We won’t have long to wait to find out what Google has in mind for VR in 2016 as Road to VR will be present at Google I/O from May 18 to bring you events as they unfold from the show floor.

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Based in the UK, Paul has been immersed in interactive entertainment for the best part of 27 years and has followed advances in gaming with a passionate fervour. His obsession with graphical fidelity over the years has had him branded a ‘graphics whore’ (which he views as the highest compliment) more than once and he holds a particular candle for the dream of the ultimate immersive gaming experience. Having followed and been disappointed by the original VR explosion of the 90s, he then founded to follow the new and exciting prospect of the rebirth of VR in products like the Oculus Rift. Paul joined forces with Ben to help build the new Road to VR in preparation for what he sees as VR’s coming of age over the next few years.
  • Tyrus Gail

    In my opinion? Mobile VR is a JOKE. I have Gear VR (with s6 edge plus) and resolution, screen door, and FoV in this toy is laughable (as content in store). None of my friends do not use this for more than 1-2 minutes.

    Only thing what can save Vive and Rift are games with good storyline (like Deus Ex, Life is strange, or Mass effect) in VR – but those kind of game are not exist right now. So, heavy gamers will be very disappointed by lack of content (unless they trying run something on Vorpx). So, in my opinion, 2016 VR, and especially mobile VR is one big misfire.

    • Daniel Gochez

      VR software that is out now consists mainly of tech demos and indie efforts. The reasoning is simple: Why would a AAA developer invest in a platform that has less than 100,000 users when there are platforms like the PS4 with 3,000,000 units installed (according to Sony)

      • DiGiCT Ltd

        Steam Platform is big enough, as you say AAA companies they need to make sure to release a worthy title, not just a port over as that will be a company killer.

      • Tyrus Gail

        That’s my point, exactly. Triple A hardware (600+1000 USD) for simple games from smartphone. That’s… misfire.

        • Malkmus

          I think what everyone is trying to tell you is that it’s not “a misfire”, it’s the baby steps that are necessary to gradually build interest.

        • Bryan Ischo

          Please stop spamming the discussion with the same statement over and over again. We get it, you don’t like the current crop of VR offerings. Then by all means, sit this generation out. There are plenty of us who enjoy what’s available now and will fund the development of the next version, which you may find suits your needs better. In the meantime, stop spamming.

          • Tyrus Gail

            I’m no spamming. Why everyone get jammed on ‘baby steps’ and ‘future’. I DON’T CARE. I have to spend a lot of money now, and I’m not getting enough for my money. That’s a fact.

            Everyone agree, ‘however…’. I don’t care about ‘however’.

            For now, content for hardware for that amount of money is too small. End of story.

    • DiGiCT Ltd

      It’s not a joke but limitation of the phone that a dev needs to work with.
      An edge model is not the best as it has lower PPI as the normal version, also an S7 has 30% performance boost on graphics which just can let dev use better graphics.
      Dont forget that most mobile phone games are simply 2d games or fake 3d as they call it 2.5 D all to keep performance.

      For high end games you still need a high end machine as simple as that.
      You cant expect a family car drives as a Ferrari, it’s simply how it is.
      The not having good content that could be as stated above devs need time to make games.
      Art in general cost more time as coding on high end games if using existing engines.
      An other thing is that you cant just port games over to VR but need to rethink about how to make it to prevent motion sickness.
      Games you mentioned are FPS games and you will feel sick if play it without being able to move your feet to move around in VR.
      There are alternatives for it but those control systems are still in development and will take up huge space which most people dont have.
      It simply takes time to figure out what in VR is good to play and how, some things simply will not work in VR as they already are at the best in use in 2D.
      The only thing that might eventually change that is AR as it works just fine as being 2D huds.
      Screen door is only there if you focus on it or the app just not attractive enough to let you focus on it again.

      • Tyrus Gail

        And for you too: That’s my point, exactly. Triple A hardware (600+1000 USD, or phone for 500-600+99 USD for googles) for simple games from smartphone. That’s… misfire.

    • Doctor Bambi

      Hmm, that’s a fair point Tyrus there’s not much legitimate content out at the moment and the hardware leaves plenty to be desired, but I’ve been completely immersed many times in the gear and more content comes out all the time. Deus Ex and Mass Effect were built on the backs of games that came before them. Decades of iteration, reseach, and refinement have gone into the experiences we see released today on traditional consoles. To make the fairest comparison, you’d have to use something akin to the Atari or Nintendo, when we were just starting to grasp what a home console could be. In a similar way, we’re still discovering what it means to be a virtual reality headset. I would just say, hang in there. Give the gear some time to grow into itself. Keep an eye on the oculus store cause better and better experiences are coming and soon.

      • Zen_Punk

        “The” Atari? “The” Nintendo? Funny how the 20-year-olds of today sound like the 50-year-olds of yesterday.

  • Steve Biegun

    I disagree with Tyrus Gail that 2016 VR is a misfire. These sorts of productions take time – several years, in fact. You can’t expect a new Deus Ex, Life is Strange, and Mass Effect to launch at the same time as the first generation of consumer headsets. That’s just ridiculous. Vive has only been publicly developed for less than 2 years.

    Back to the article, Google’s VR will have to have a great feature that Gear VR doesn’t have if it is going to be competitive. I’m not saying that there will be Leap Motion integration, but I swear I saw the Google devs giving the LM devs some winks and sidelong glances at conferences this year. Also worth mentioning, LM has stated that their goal is to partner with an OEM for hardware integration. Anyone who has tried Leap Motion would agree that the device has amazing potential for the future of VR gaming.

    • Maguila_70

      Didn’t see your post before submitting my comment. I completely AGREE with you about Leap motion integration. Using DK2 for year and a half, and last couple of months with LM attached. Having more fun and relaxing times with Blocks than with any other demo or game. If Google announce a device with LM included, my opinion is that they are going to push VR in a way we can’t even imagine. Hope they go further than cardboard, and build at least a GearVR with LM. With a price in the 100’s it would make a very solid VR experience at a very affordable level for mass consumption. Very exiting times we are living!!!

      • Bryan Ischo

        Having used the LM quite a bit, I’d say that it has to become *much* more accurate than even the Orion release to be really viable. It’s fun to play around with but I would never want to use it as my primary input mechanism, or rely on it for the kind of fidelity needed for interactive gaming. Also, it has to track hand motion outside of the headset’s field of view, because having your hands disappearing whenever you’re not looking at them is not acceptable for most experiences.

        That being said, when I show people the DK2 they think it’s pretty cool. But when I fire up Blocks or Geometry (Leap Motion demos), people think it’s *really* cool. So there’s definitely something to be said for hand presence.

    • Tyrus Gail

      And for you: That’s my point, exactly. Triple A hardware (600+1000 USD) for simple games from smartphone. That’s… misfire.

  • TaxPayer

    Time will tell…. but i hope it all works out. Tired of flat screen gaming… i mean i like it, but this is better

  • Maguila_70

    Hope they announce some type of device similar to Gear Vr with a software ecosystem (developer APIs) and an integrated leap motion wide FOV sensor. This would be the real killer mobile VR experience!!!!

  • Brian Stack

    How about a standalone VR device similar to the Rift or Vive that didn’t require a smartphone or $1,500 computer? Maybe not quite yet…

    • Chad Schofield

      The Rift and Vive do not require a $1500 computer. That’s actually the price of the Rift plus the PC needed to run it. Right now, $600-800 can build you a powerful enough PC. Some people are even reporting that the GTX 960, which is about a $200 graphics card, works well with the consumer Rift. It won’t be long before a low cost, standalone VR headset becomes available once the hardware starts getting mass produced. In 2-3 years, there will be plenty of low cost options for both wired and standalone headsets.

  • DonGateley

    All I want is a resolution that makes the cinematic experience palatable. 4k support at both the software and hardware level might start approaching that.

  • DiGiCT Ltd

    Google make it simple :

    1. A standalone android or linux driven device.
    2. A good alternative for GearVR that is universal for most phones to come as locking down to only one brand is ridiculous.
    3. Make a better to use SDK, cardbox is fine but far from perfect as far as i went trough it.
    4. make a minimum required spec list for android device manufactures to be VR certified and only allow them to release devices which meet up with those requirement.
    That makes it easier as without having the specs the phone should have just normal android and with the specs anVR android version installed.
    This makes people step into VR having the correct expierence since the start.

  • Dominic Cerisano

    Mobile VR actually has a mass market revenue stream: commercially branded packaging that is reused to become a free viewer for VR promotions (adverts, campaigns, games, etc). Very big players are already trying on this new sales tool, with great effect.

    Expensive dedicated VR headsets cannot access mass markets.

  • Ember Dawn

    the best way to make a usable vr device for mobile is to build a headset (with a coprocessor that handles all the sensor and display data) that plugs into a mobile phone that runs the program/ game as well as can act as a remote as well as design with the the trial and error from Google Glass to create a beautiful AR/VR device

  • Art Scott

    Consider paradigm shift WebVR + WebAssembly faster load compressed could include more native performance everywhere #JavaScript founder #BrendanEich: #WebAssembly is a game-changer | InfoWorld WebVR + WebAssembly