Virtual reality is an area that is sure to get more mainstream in the years to come. Often it has been associated with expensive hardware and programming complexity. Among all the big-ticket announcements at Google I/O 2014, one item caught everyone's attention: Google Cardboard. Sundar Pichai introduced it during his keynote, and what followed was surprise at what inexpensive hardware can achieve to bring immersive experiences using a regular smartphone.
Since being announced in June, Google Cardboard has shipped 500,000 units across the world and wowed users with what can be achieved with minimal hardware. The stakes have just been raised with a blog post that announced not just a new version of the Cardboard application but a dedicated Play Store page for Cardboard-enabled apps, SDKs for Android and Unity, plus the release of specifications for making custom Cardboard viewers.
A Cardboard-focused Play Store page is now live with apps that make the best immersive experiences all within the Cardboard app. The apps feature live concerts, test drives and various games, including Proton Pulse and the Hobbit VR Experience.
Android and Unity developers are in for a treat via the newly announced APIs. The APIs help you quickly get started with VR apps or integrate Cardboard into existing VR apps. Check out the documentation for Android and Unity Cardboard APIs. Some of the common development tasks that it helps address are head tracking, 3-D calibration and side-by-side rendering.
Finally, there is something for manufacturers too. Google has published Cardboard specifications so that anyone can assemble this themselves. Cardboard is available from several vendors, but this is not where things need to end. Google has provided a Manufacturers Kit that includes both production templates and best practices. The production templates help you produce Cardboard with whatever equipment you have (die-cutter, laser cutter and even scissors), and with best practices documented for branding and specifications for each component, we are probably going to see a lot more innovative viewing equipment in the near future.
With these moves, Google has thrown the door open to both manufacturers and developers to help build out the ecosystem. Given the importance of VR in the near future, it will be exciting to see the direction in which Cardboard goes. And given its humble start, this is a space worth watching.