In 2012 Oculus VR began the unthinkable task of resurrecting virtual reality (VR) when it released it’s Oculus Rift dev kit. In the next 12 months Sony and Valve will jump on the bandwagon and release consumer headsets for their gaming platforms. But Microsoft and Oculus backer Facebook have loftier goals – to position VR as a new mainstream platform, and the showbag novelty Google Cardboard might help them get there.
Past evolutions of consumer VR have ultimately been let down by the technology. The smartphone boom has all but solved this problem, perfecting and reducing the cost of the components required for modern VR. Thus gamers will decide if the technology is now mature enough for consumers.
The next stage will be applying the technology to applications beyond gaming. When Facebook acquired Oculus VR, CEO Mark Zuckerberg justified the move by saying “Strategically we want to start building the next major computing platform that will come after mobile”. VR and games is a pretty natural fit, but the jury is out on whether VR can become a mainstream platform.
Mass adoption is not an easy hurdle. VR has an image problem, take a random sample of the public and ask them to try the Oculus Rift and you’ll see the issue. There is a sense of hesitancy, even embarrassment. No one was too embarrassed to try an iPhone before the rise of mobile as a platform, but there is real resistance to even trying VR, let alone buying it. Gamer headsets will only engrain this further. Enter Google Cardboard.
Google Cardboard is essentially a foldable pizza box that turns your smartphone into a VR headset. If you can follow the fun, puzzle like instructions to turn a flat pack of cardboard into a viewer, you’re in business. It looks more like an old View Master than a headset. It’s cute, it’s silly, it’s non-threatening and if there’s a killer app to launch VR as a platform and bring it into the mainstream, this is where it will be.