Google to go beyond Cardboard, prepping a new branded VR headset

8 Feb 2016

Google plans to bake VR capabilities into Android rather than rely on a separate app

Google is planning a robust, branded successor to its cheap and cheerful Cardboard VR headset, mooting a solid plastic casing, with VR capabilities baked into Android that could raise the ante significantly against Facebook’s Oculus and Samsung’s Gear VR.

The key to the success of virtual reality (VR) is getting the technology out of the novelty zone and into the hands of as many consumers as possible, with compelling and useful apps that bring VR to life.

Unfortunately, the first Oculus Rift is available for pre-order at the hefty price of $599, which will be out of the reach of most potential users.

The Gear VR, a collaboration between Samsung and Oculus, went on sale last year for around $100.

But, ultimately, VR headsets are most likely to be given away as deal-sweeteners for smartphone buyers and this is where Google comes in.

Up until now, the tech giant has striven to prove that engaging in VR experiences doesn’t need to cost an arm and a leg, and – with its Cardboard project – has even given consumers the knowledge to make their own headsets if they wish.

Cardboard relies on the sensors in smartphones to do the work, while the more expensive Gear VR uses extra motion sensors in addition to the phone to enhance the experience.

According to the Financial Times, Google plans to improve the quality of the mobile VR experience by embedding new software in the Android operating system rather than relying on a traditional app.

The benefit of this is that it could reduce the amount of latency.

Go-go Google goggles

So far Google is understood to have shipped more than 5m units of Cardboard.

But as we go into 2016 – agreed by all as the pivotal first year of the VR revolution – expect things to step up a gear.

The new solid plastic Google VR headset is slated for release later this year and, unlike the Gear VR – which works with only a handful of Samsung devices – will work with a broader range of smartphones.

Let the VR wars begin!

VR headset image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years