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Google I/O: delivering cheap virtual reality with 'Google Cardboard' is a stroke of genius

Google hopes the headset will kick-start virtual reality - but are they for real?

James Vincent
Thursday 26 June 2014 15:19
Google Cardboard allows users to experience virtual reality, cheaply
Google Cardboard allows users to experience virtual reality, cheaply

Although Google I/O (the company’s annual conference for developers) had plenty of news for both coders and consumers, there was one product launch that got people really excited – a cardboard virtual reality headset.

With Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus Rift and Sony’s push into the same market with Project Morpheus, Google obviously felt they had to respond in a big way: meet Google Cardboard.

Described as a “no frills enclosure that transforms a phone into a basic VR headset,” Cardboard is a box that can be unpacked, re-folded, and glued into place as a pair of goggles with a slot for your smartphone.

Once the requisite mobile app has been downloaded (it splits your screen into two halves which are seen through the cheap, fish-eye like lenses that came with Cardboard) users can then have a little bit of virtual reality on the cheap.

“Virtual reality has made exciting progress over the past several years. However, developing for VR still requires expensive, specialized hardware,” said Google.

“Thinking about how to make VR accessible to more people, a group of VR enthusiasts at Google experimented with using a smartphone to drive VR experiences.

“We want everyone to experience virtual reality in a simple, fun, and inexpensive way. With your phone and a piece of Cardboard you can see some pretty amazing stuff.”

Despite the low-tech sell of Cardboard, it’s also got some clever tweaks, including a magnet ‘button’ that’s detected by certain phones’ magnetometer and an NFC tag that triggers the VR app when it’s placed inside the goggles.

Is Cardboard a dig at other VR manufacturers? A joke or a genuine attempt to kick-start the industry? The answer is probably ‘all of the above’ and thankfully for Google, no matter how serious they take it at the end of the day it’s only cardboard.

(If you want to try out Cardboard yourself instructions on how are available here)

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