When two Google engineers first dreamed up the Google Cardboard virtual reality viewer back in 2014, several small startups jumped onboard and made kits with all the necessary parts so that home users could build and use the devices. Until now, Google itself never offered them directly, although the company did make construction plans and drawings available for free.
That changed recently when Google added a virtual reality product page to its online Google Store and began offering Google Cardboard (pictured) and other VR devices for sale to consumers from one easy-to-use source.
Available through the site is an easy-to-assemble Google Cardboard kit for $15 with free shipping, or a two-pack for $25, as well as a Mattel View-Master VR Starter Pack kit for $29.99 or a Google Tech C1-Glass VR Viewer for $14.99. All three products work with a compatible smartphone to bring virtual reality features to users through the devices.
The VR devices work with a Cardboard app to let users experience the magic of VR with their smartphones, allowing them to "see" world-famous landmarks, step into outer space and relive favorite vacation photos in new ways, according to Google.
Google Cardboard 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.
Google has been working on various VR projects over the last several years. In February, reports circulated that Google is in the midst of designing a stand-alone virtual reality headset device that would not require it to be used with a smartphone, unlike its existing Google Cardboard viewer.
The latest device would feature its own screen, high-powered processors and outward-facing cameras, according to an earlier eWEEK story. The inclusion of processors makes the newest Google device different from other VR products, such as the Oculus Rift, that are used when connected to PCs. It would be the first stand-alone VR viewer to be built that doesn't require an accompanying smartphone or PC.
As part of the company's growing VR efforts, Google is also updating its Android mobile operating system so it can work with a wider range of Android smartphones with VR-related features. Presently, only a limited number of smartphones work with the existing Google Cardboard viewer.
Google also reportedly has been working on a planned revision for its existing Google Cardboard viewer. The updated Google Cardboard viewer, which will still be used with a smartphone, will include additional support for the Android operating system and is expected to be released this year to replace Google Cardboard, according to an earlier eWEEK story.
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.
Apple also is 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.