Google’s recent press event was titled “Made by Google”, and the company took that name to heart. At the keynote address on October 4th, executives, project team leaders, and innovators from the company showcased four entirely new products with an amazing synergy between them. Google is always a leader in the tech industry, and Pixel, Google Assistant, Google Home, and Daydream serve to cement that spot. For our part, we’re most excited about Daydream.
More than just another iteration on Cardboard, Daydream represents a genuine leap forward in mobile-based virtual reality. For the first time, we have a dedicated OS for mobile VR, built from the ground up to create the best experience possible.
The first HMD to utilize this technology, Daydream View, has plenty of technological muscle to show off. It’s every bit the equal of Gear VR with a lower price point and a much more attractive form factor.
More importantly, though, the Daydream View headset and its successors can utilize the entire considerable power of a compatible phone. Using the new platform, a Daydream-ready device switches into a special “VR Mode”, lowering latency and dedicating all available resources to the VR experience. As they did with early Android phones, Google is using Pixel and Daydream View to set an example for other hardware developers, showing them the possibilities of the new paradigm.
With the weight of a giant like Google thrown behind mobile-based VR, it cannot help but succeed. So what makes Daydream so accessible, with the capacity to reach a larger market than ever before?
Google Daydream Features and Specs
True to the philosophy of accessibility that drove Daydream development, the Made by Google presentation was light on technical details. The company has not yet released hard specs on the headset, with Bavor simply stating “The specs are there. It has a nice field of view.” Although this might be interpreted as dodging the question from another company, Google has built enough trust in the industry that we can take Bavor’s word for it.
Aesthetics and Comfort
It’s the design philosophy, rather than the tech specs, of Daydream View that makes us stand up and take notice. From their standpoint of “accessibility first”, Google prioritized comfort and ease of use in creating the HMD.
The entire device is covered in high performance microfiber fabric. The only parts of Daydream View that aren’t soft to the touch are the lenses themselves. Google partnered with an unnamed athletic apparel company to develop the fabric, which is comfortable to wear on the head for long periods of time.
Ease of Use
Phones slot into Daydream View with a single latch, making it easy to slip into the virtual world to check out a new experience or app. To make it even easier to transition into VR, Google has created a virtual interface from which to select apps without removing the headset. Appropriately, this interface takes the form of a tranquil forest.
That said, we can make some deductions about the technical specs of the device. Daydream requires a “Daydream-ready” phone to work. Currently, the only two Daydream-ready phones are Google’s own Pixel and Pixel XL. While the Pixel’s screen resolution is Full HD (1920×1080), the Pixel XL boasts a resolution of 2560×1440, comparable to high-end Samsung phones like the Galaxy S7.
More importantly, Pixel ships with Android Nougat, the latest version of Google’s open-source smartphone OS. Nougat includes a brand-new “VR mode” that brings the phone’s latency down to under 20ms. Again, this is comparable to high-end Samsung models.
What this amounts to is a smarter, better take on Gear VR. Daydream is unique for Google’s design philosophy and commitment to quality. The interior technical workings of the device take their cues from previous successes.
Google Daydream Controller
One area where Daydream does veer away from Gear VR is in its reliance on a physical controller. Although Bluetooth gamepads and other controllers are commonly used with Gear VR, the device does not require them, and does not come with one.
Not the case with the new Google HMD. Daydream comes packed with a very small, very high-tech control device. Looking like nothing so much as a TV remote control, albeit one from 10 or 15 years in the future, the Daydream controller has a lot of innovation packed into its small body.
The controller features just two physical buttons, one of which is a dedicated “Home” button for exiting apps. At the tip of the device, though, is a clickable trackpad. This can function as a mouse or analog stick in games and apps, making navigation through the virtual world intuitive and natural.
Taking inspiration from dedicated VR setups like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, or perhaps more directly from the Nintendo Wii, the Daydream controller also features gyroscopic sensors. The device can be pointed, waved, or tilted, its movements translating directly into the virtual world.
Google Director of VR/AR Partnerships Adrienne McCallister demonstrated this functionality in perhaps the best way possible: through a Harry Potter app. In Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the controller becomes a magic wand. In a prerecorded video, McCallister demonstrated how the controller could be used to interact with a variety of objects in the game, as well as cast spells through gestural motions.
The controller is stored within Daydream itself when not in use, fitting comfortably in a special compartment inside the headset.
Google Daydream Forecast
With an MSRP of just $79, Daydream is poised to take significant market share away from the $99 Samsung Gear VR. The headset is, without remorse, riding on the coattails of the even more impressive Pixel phone. The new Apple-styled phone seems certain to become the new top-of-the-line Android device.
Google is extremely bullish on Daydream’s potential sales. At a breakout session of the Google I/O developers conference, senior product manager Brahim Elbouchiki candidly stated that he expected to “have hundreds of millions of users on Daydream devices” within “a couple of years.”
That may or may not be over-ambitious. After all, today over 2 billion people own smartphones, and the number is only rising year over year. Still, the more conservative might prefer the forecast released by SuperData Research, a market research firm serving the gaming industry.
According to SuperData, Daydream should sell about half a million units by the end of 2016. That’s quite fast for a device that will not be available for purchase until November. In data provided to games industry news site GamesBiz, SuperData further estimated that sales will exceed 14 million by 2020.
SuperData sees this as a harbinger of massive growth in the VR industry in general. Whatever happens from this point on, the firm says, the “effort to woo consumers with virtual reality gaming is in full steam.” Regardless of which hardware platform climbs to the top of the heap, the increased public awareness and adoption is wonderful for the industry as a whole.
Google Daydream Business Potential
From a business standpoint, this kind of explosive VR industry growth is huge. Google, along with other hardware manufacturers, is utterly committed to virtual reality’s continued success. They are taking the long view, and thinking now about what the industry will look like in 5, 10, or 20 years.
One aspect of VR that will not change is the need for a constant stream of apps, games, and experiences. At Google, Adrienne McCallister’s primary job function is to nurture content creators to ensure that stream continues to flow.
It’s not just software developers that are crucial to this process. Press outlets like the New York Times, museums like the London Natural History Museum, and even YouTubers are being actively courted by Google to bring their unique perspectives and ideas to the new virtual landscape. There is a great deal of room for content ranging from games and humor to education and journalism.
All of these content creators need technological expertise to bring their visions to life, though, and that is where VR developers step in. Virtual reality just became a much bigger field, and every explorer needs a guide. By partnering with a VR development house, creators can ensure that an app’s reality meets their vision.
Daydream Widens the Field
This new hardware push from Google means great things for VR developers and enthusiasts. Google has been chasing the dream of mass-market virtual reality since the original release of Cardboard. With Daydream, they may have finally achieved it.
- The Daydream platform allows mobile-based VR to finally approach the performance and immersion of much more expensive PC-based solutions.
- The attractive design aesthetic of the Daydream View HMD makes it something the average consumer will proudly own, carry around, or leave out at home. It looks like an accessory, not a gadget.
- The price point closes the deal. At $20 less than Gear VR, hundreds of thousands of potential buyers “on the edge” will happily shell out and join the virtual reality revolution.
The time is now to start developing content for Daydream. Google has a strong launch lineup, but as we all know, consumers will always want new experiences.