Google Unveils Daydream, Challenges Mobile VR Market

Colin McMahon
May 20, 2016

Google I/O 2016 – Google wasted no time starting its software-developer conference with a bang. Unveiled were several new updates, including a new version of Android, currently dubbed Android N. More impressive than even a comprehensive Android update, however, was the unveiling of Google Daydream, the company’s newest mobile virtual reality (VR) platform, which includes a new headset, controller, and app store interface.

Google-Daydream-2-540x409

Not only is Google Daydream the successor to the highly successful Google Cardboard viewer, it represents Google’s serious growth into the mobile VR market. Up until now, Samsung occupied a relatively unchallenged position with its head mounted device (HMD), the Gear. Google Daydream will go a step further by providing a handheld motion controller as well. This controller already looks far more intuitive than the Gear’s HMD side control input.

What makes this even more of a challenge, however, is Google’s proposed alternative to Oculus. The VR branch of Facebook currently has a contract with Samsung to provide the Gear’s software app store and interface. Google has bypassed this third-party step completely and has created its own software, which aims to take full advantage of the company’s new Android N program.

Google has also announced that Daydream will be open-source. Like the Oculus marketplace, developers will be able to create and upload apps without jumping through a multitude of creative hurdles. This will help prospective developers to create content rapidly. Adding to Daydream’s appeal is Google’s own apps, namely YouTube and Chrome. To watch YouTube on Gear, users have to settle for a stitched together adapted web interface that does not feel fully intuitive (Gear users first need to log onto Samsung Internet VR app, then access a standard 2D YouTube interface – this results in many 360-degree videos appearing stretched and blurry). The Daydream marketplace will feature a fully integrated YouTube app that will surely be superior to what is currently on Gear.

Given the still relatively new mobile VR market and Samsung’s positive reports on its active Gear user base, this announcement comes as no surprise. Google has been open about its investments into VR for years (again, look no further than the Google Cardboard – a device designed to put VR into as many hands as possible). As of January of this year, over five million Google Cardboard units had been sold (this figure includes sets that were sent out for promotion). The company is obviously looking to build on this success.

The current design for the Google app store looks very similar to Oculus' model for the Samsung Gear.

The current design for the Google app store looks very similar to Oculus’ model for the Samsung Gear.

Right now, there are still unknowns. Like the Gear, Daydream is looking to work on multiple phones. Unlike Samsung, . Every phone supporting Android N is the potential hardware for Google Daydream. At the announcement, Google announced a list of Android N phone developers, including HTC, LG, Sony, and Motorola. Samsung is another partner listed for Android N.

This could mean that the next Galaxy (or even several current models) could run Oculus and Daydream. The real question is whether Daydream will work on the Gear. Given the motion controller apparatus, it is unlikely . It is possible that Daydream will function at limited capacity. It is also possible that a controller may be included in the Samsung response.

The controller design is currently a small remote with limited button interface. The headset itself has been reported to be made from fabric - presumably for comfort and to lower production costs.

The controller design is currently a small remote with limited button interface. The headset itself has been reported to be made from fabric – presumably for comfort and to lower production costs.

With this announcement, two of the three largest smartphone companies now firmly occupy the world of mobile VR. It will be interesting to see Apple’s response. InfoTrends recommends keeping an eye on the Apple Worldwide Developer’s Conference next month, when a mobile VR announcement is possible.

InfoTrends Opinion

InfoTrends has been watching the mobile VR market take shape. Google Daydream marks a continuation in the rapid advancement of VR technology and mainstream market penetration. If the Cardboard was an amateur device, we think that Daydream represents Google’s first serious investment. The device still is far from as advanced as the Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive (both devices capable of six-axis tracking, something which Daydream will not be able to do), but its potential is worlds above Cardboard. InfoTrends will follow continue to follow the launch of mobile VR closely, to see how the public reacts to devices like the Gear, Daydream, and the possible Apple mobile VR program. Google hopes to have the headset, controller, and software available this fall (Q3 2016).

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