It looked like somebody had dumped a trash can on my desk. It was covered in small bits of paper and plastic and brown cardboard. Somebody asked me what I was doing. It wasn’t until after I answered the question that I realized how ridiculous it sounded, “I’m putting together a pair of virtual reality glasses.”
Google Cardboard, after being available to the public for a year, is finally getting some mainstream attention. And that’s because Google is really starting to push it. Just in May, Google assigned an official design boss for what had previously been a casual side project, it created a guide for designing virtual reality experiences, it released an iPhone version, and it refined its design to accommodate all phone sizes and types.
Google seems all in, and it’s exciting.
I’ve never worn an Oculus Rift, the super-high tech virtual reality system owned by Facebook and which has, in the past few years, owned all the buzz on virtual reality. Few have. That’s because these things are extremely complex and not yet available to the general public. They’re slated to be consumer-ready in early 2016, with a projected price of $1500. That means, well, that most of us still won’t have experienced virtual reality. For virtual reality to really catch on, you’ve gotta make it cheap.
And you can’t get cheaper than cardboard. Or Cardboard.
Google’s Cardboard project is brilliant: Take the cost out of the hardware and use a ubiquitous software platform: the smartphone. It’s almost like they were inspired by the 3D glasses of old, which promised big experiences using only cardboard and colored cellophane.
For as little as $15.00 (the cost of the glasses plus a free app on your own phone), anyone can experience something heretofore only touted in science fiction.
But is it a good virtual reality experience? That was the question that had me assembling trash on my desk. We had purchased a third-party kit (there’s already an ecosystem of players in the Google Cardboard world on both the hardware and software sides because of the easy entry points) with a slightly different design, but it was 100% Google Cardboard innovation.
I put them on. Suddenly I was on stage with Paul McCartney singing Live and Let Die. I switched apps and I was zooming down a roller coaster fast enough that my stomach was confused. When I got home I gave it to my five-year-old…who screamed because I’d left on a spooky graveyard environment with zombies. The underwater world one was much more to her liking. She called it the “lookaround game” and kept asking for more experiences. Keep in mind, I wasn’t downloading games (I’d messed up the selector in putting together the glasses, so we couldn’t interact with the screen). They were just “lookaround” experiences. And they were fun.
But you know what? It almost doesn’t matter how good the virtual reality is on Google Cardboard. I mean, it’ll matter with the Oculus Rift. For the cash you’re investing there, you’ll rightly expect the best experience ever. But when your investment is under $20, you’re going to give the experience some leeway. Plus, and this is another brilliant move on Google’s part, if you don’t like the experience, you won’t blame the system. How can you? It’s just cardboard. It did its job just by ensuring slot A lines up with tab B. You blame the app, and then you just get a new one to try. And there will be a ton of experiences to try if the Google Cardboard viewer takes off with enough users.
The possibilities for Google Cardboard in the future are endless. Heck, the possibilities for it right now are already…virtually…endless in its current state. At Maark, we’ve already started fitting it into our projects. How often can you say that about a first-gen technology?
If I can call good old cardboard a first-gen technology.