Google’s I/O keynote speech ended on Thursday with one of their traditional freebie giveaways to all I/O attendees. Google has built a reputation for being very generous at these events, with previous years’ giveaways including mobile phones, Chromecasts and even laptops. When presented with an A4 sized cardboard box, attendees would be forgiven for getting their hopes up thinking it contained a new tablet computer – but no, the gift was in fact the cardboard itself. Google however, were concealing an ace up their sleeve as, in true MacGyver style, the box transforms into a basic VR headset when combined with a compatible Android smartphone.
Pizza box VR for the masses
The simple design mounts the phone in the front of the split-eye lenses as we’ve seen with a few other mobile phone VR viewers. A built in NFC sticker then signals your phone to switch into VR mode and the custom app controls the split screen rendering. Head tracking is via your phone’s internal accelerometers which are renowned for having very poor latency so this really isn’t really any sort of competition for ‘proper’ VR headsets such as the Oculus Rift.
In order to build your own, you’ll also require some specific lenses which aren’t all that easy to come by and will probably set you back about £20. In my opinion this negates some of the fundamental premise of this concept: price. While it’s neat idea being able to craft your own Blue Peter badge VR headset, the cost of buying the lenses puts me off, especially since the it’s not a serious VR experience that you’ll get from it. For the persistent among you, you’ll also need some velcro, magnets [b!tch!], an elastic band, a programmable NFC sticker (optional) and a crafting knife/scalpel.
Android VR in a
nutshell cardboard box
It’s a novel idea and one that will hopefully generate some interest among developers to create some cool VR apps. However, with the latency and graphical abilities of current generation smartphones, this isn’t a great VR experience and we hope that people initially drawn in by the low price tag aren’t given a false impression of VR as a whole by this. Be under no illusion: The likes of the Oculus Rift and Sony Morpheus are in a different league to this in terms of VR experience. Aspersions aside, the takeaway is that Cardboard is a neat little idea for developers and casual users.
You can watch the full Google I/O Cardboard talk here: