The fruits of Google’s beefed up VR team are coming soon.
According to a Financial Times source, Google is developing a VR headset that’s more serious than its $10 Cardboard box. Akin to a Samsung Gear VR, you’ll still slip your Android phone inside to use it. That may just make it sound like a sturdier version of Cardboard, but the headset will be loaded with extra sensors that should make the experience a lot more responsive and immersive than Google’s existing platform.
Thus far, it’s an approach that’s been successful for Samsung. Gear VR is a superb entry level VR system that’s perfectly capable of making your jaw drop. And priced at $100 (on top of the phone), it was a sleeper hit last Christmas. As an alternative that requires no phone but does need a pricey PC, Oculus Rift will run you $600 later this year.
But truth be told, the more interesting news in the Financial Times piece may be that Google will be releasing a more VR-friendly version of its Android operating system to support the headset. Gear VR doesn’t really let you navigate through Android; as soon as you pop in your phone, it redirects you to Samsung’s own app. Assuming Android is built to be more VR friendly, that opens the door to a lot of possibilities—from better VR apps with improved software development support from Google, to a version of Android that could be the first truly navigable VR operating system.
At least two of Google’s senior level designers are working on the company’s VR efforts. The design department is now run by Jon Wiley, the former head of Google Search, and it also recruited Joshua To, who was a design lead for the company’s app division. Considering how good Google’s design has gotten, it’s very promising to have so much talent focusing on the uncountable UX problems awaiting us inside the virtual frontier.
We'll likely hear more at Google’s IO conference this May, but Financial Times says we shouldn't expect the new headset until September or later.