Why Google Daydream matters — and how it could change virtual reality – The Verge

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Google’s sticker for emulating the Daydream controller on a smartphone.

While you can (apparently) do some things with Daydream that would also work with Rift or Vive motion controllers, again, thinking of it as a competitor to either of these would be a bad idea. The Daydream remote is explicitly an answer to the Gear VR’s side-of-the-headset trackpad, an innovative design that’s often tiring and awkward to use. It’s something I asked for in my review of the Gear VR, and an idea that Oculus co-founder Palmer Luckey has dismissed — partly, he told me in an interview at CES, because he worried that people would end up losing it. That’s a legitimate issue, and Bavor doesn’t say how Google might solve it, but he does say that there’s “a lot of detail in there that doesn’t come through” in the headset rendering that Google released as part of this week’s announcement.

The thing that could really make Daydream feel natural is blending the very familiar features of Android with VR’s unique quirks. The VR Play Store, for example, will supposedly include all the features of its antecedent, but app previews will have what Bavor calls “worldshots” instead of screenshots — 360-degree freeze-frames that users will teleport inside. Google will arrange the Daydream home screen to accommodate the fact that VR “apps” are often portals to other libraries of videos or experiences, pulling out new material to make it easier to find. And VR YouTube will deal with a big problem I found in the Gear VR: the fact that you need a swivel chair or an incredibly flexible neck to watch 360-degree videos in a headset. Viewers can use the Daydream remote to pan around a video, while still using head-tracking for finer motion. Google also wants to make it easy to find and download VR apps or content while outside virtual reality, then queue them up to appear when you put on the headset.

But a really robust Android VR ecosystem depends on a lot of factors. For one thing, it assumes that the Daydream-ready phones from Samsung, HTC, Huawei, LG, and others will be good non-VR devices as well — good enough to buy and use as an everyday smartphone. Given that the headset image we’ve seen has all the detail of your average patent illustration, it also assumes that Google’s partners create headsets that are as uniquely light, comfortable, ergonomic, and even attractive as they’re supposed to be. (Though Daydream opens quality mobile VR up to a wide range of phones, it’s not totally clear whether all Daydream headsets will fit all Daydream-ready smartphones, or if buyers will be locked into certain brands or models.) And in order to succeed, Google will have to do something it’s historically eschewed: very carefully curate the Play Store.

Google will take a “very, very strong stance” on VR app performance and quality

Bavor says that for Daydream apps, Google will “take a very, very strong stance” on quality, performance, framerate, and image latency. “We want to make sure that we’re representing good VR to our users,” instead of risking putting them off with a nauseating experience. Part of the reason the platform is being announced here at I/O is to let developers start working with the system, even before they can actually use the headset. Both Unity and Epic, creators of the two most popular game engines for VR development, are announcing support today, and Google is releasing a series of demos that show how people could use the motion controller — several of which appeared in a video yesterday. While developers are waiting for the controller, says Google product manager Nathan Martz, they can emulate it by waving around a smartphone, putting a sticker over the screen to mark where its buttons and trackpad would be.

Despite its growing popularity, VR of any kind is still a niche platform to develop for, and Google will probably end up poaching a lot of content from the Samsung Gear VR — it’s already brought over apps from Netflix and Hulu. This raises a significant question: what happens when the creators of Android and the most powerful Android phone company are selling competing VR headsets? Samsung is one of the partners for Daydream, but Google wouldn’t comment on how or whether it would be competing with the Gear VR. Turning the Gear VR into a Daydream design would put Samsung in an awkward place with its current partner Oculus — especially because Oculus CTO John Carmack has invested significant time in optimizing Samsung’s Android phones for the headset. But Bavor seems hesitant when I float the possibility of Samsung selling it alongside a Daydream device. “I’m not really sure how to play all that out,” he says.

No matter how many Android developers Google gets on board with Daydream, it’s got one huge disadvantage: unlike Cardboard, developers won’t be able to reach the millions of smartphone users running iOS. The original Cardboard was Android-only, but it only became truly ubiquitous after the second, universal version launched a year later. And for the foreseeable future, iOS isn’t part of Google’s Daydream plans. Getting good enough performance, Bavor says, requires changes “at all levels of the operating system” — it’s not as easy as porting Gmail or Google Maps over to the iPhone.

Why Google Daydream matters — and how it could change virtual reality – The Verge