Google Developing New Smartphone-Based Virtual Reality Headset

The upcoming VR headset will replace Google Cardboard as the company moves to add more features and capabilities for users.

Google, virtual reality, VR headsets, virtual reality headset, Samsung Gear VR, Oculus Rift, Google Cardboard, Android, smartphones

Google is planning to release a new virtual reality headset that works with a smartphone to provide users with expanded VR capabilities compared to the company's original smartphone-based Google Cardboard viewers.

The upcoming VR device, which will also include additional support for the Android operating system, is expected to be released this year and is slated to succeed Google Cardboard, according to a Feb. 7 story by The Financial Times. Like Google Cardboard and the competing Samsung Gear VR (pictured) devices, the latest Google device will be built to wrap around an Android smartphone, which provides the technology features that gives the VR viewer its functions.

Google Cardboard, which first appeared in 2014, is a simple VR viewer made up of cut-and-folded cardboard that is shaped into a boxy-looking VR device. The gadget has a slot that accepts a compatible Android smartphone so that it can take advantage of the phone's display and other features. Several other parts are used besides the cardboard, including some Velcro, a rubber band, two small magnets and some aftermarket lenses, which can be purchased online. Several companies also sell pre-cut and packaged kits of parts.

The first Cardboard device was dreamed up and built by Googlers David Coz and Damien Henry in 2014 at the Google Cultural Institute in Paris as part of a 20 percent project, where Google employees can use up to 20 percent of their work time to engage in projects that are interesting to them.

In October 2015, The New York Times partnered with Google Cardboard to distribute free Google Cardboard virtual-reality viewers to more than 1 million print newspaper home delivery subscribers as part of a special VR content and advertising promotion. The promotion allowed home subscribers to use their Google Cardboard viewers to dive deeper into The New York Times video content by seeing it using VR tools for a more immersive visual effect.

The upcoming replacement device from Google will have upgraded parts and features, according to The Financial Times, including better sensors, lenses and a more solid plastic casing, sources told the paper. In addition, the next-generation Google headset will work with more Android devices than the Gear VR unit, which is compatible with only a few recent Samsung Galaxy smartphone models.

A key change with the upcoming viewer is that Google hopes to build more VR features into Android itself, the story reported. "Google is hoping to improve the quality of the mobile VR viewing experience by embedding new software directly into its Android smartphone operating system, rather than relying only on a traditional app as it does with Cardboard today."

In December, Google released a new Cardboard Camera app for Android that allows users to view their personal photographs with new virtual-reality capabilities, adding new life to once-static images. The new app essentially turns a smartphone into a simple virtual-reality camera, according to an earlier eWEEK story. The Cardboard Camera app for Android is available in 17 languages on Google Play.

Interestingly, Apple is also reportedly looking to deepen its involvement in augmented reality and virtual reality by hiring experts in both fields as it moves to find new markets to help the company maintain healthy revenue and profit streams as iPhone sales flatten. Apple has hired more than 100 people to look into the business market for AR and VR in an effort to determine if the company can grow sales and revenue in a market currently led by competitors such as Oculus, Samsung and Microsoft.

The VR industry is definitely growing with possibilities lately. In January, Oculus began taking preorders for its $599 Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets, which will ship starting in May. Samsung launched its own $100 Gear VR virtual reality headset last fall. The Samsung Gear VR is a consumer version of virtual reality headsets made by Oculus. The Gear VR works with Samsung's latest smartphone models—the Galaxy Note 5, Galaxy S6 Edge+, S6 and S6 Edge.

In January, Oculus announced that it is taking preorders for its $599 Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets, which will ship starting in May. Each Rift VR viewer will ship with an accompanying sensor, an Oculus Remote, cables, an Xbox One Controller and copies of the video games EVE: Valkyrie and Lucky's Tale, according to the company.