I have seen the future, and it’s made of cardboard


This week we’re testing Google Cardboard, a Viewmaster-like visor made of cardboard and magnets that turns your cell phone into a virtual reality headset.

Google launched Cardboard at their annual tech summit in June, handing out kits to attendees and helping kickstart the dialog about (and coding for) virtual reality software before the hardware becomes more mainstream and affordable.

You may recall Facebook made news earlier this year in acquiring Kickstarter-darling Oculus Rift, a ~$350 virtual reality headset that will be shipping it’s second iteration to developers later this month. Speaking about that acquisition, a respected industry investor said, “The way to understand this purchase is to think of Google buying Android in 2005. That confused a lot of people at the time. Facebook believes that virtual reality will become the next major platform, the same way mobile computing did, and they want to make sure they have a big stake in that.”

So with both Google and Facebook gearing up for VR adoption, we had to get our hands on Cardboard and see what this is all about.
Building Cardboard is as simple as collecting the pieces needed, cutting out some cardboard and slipping your Android device inside. Except the lenses are hard to come by, so we ordered our kit pre-assembled.

Once the Cardboard structure is set and your phone is rubber-banded into place, launch the Cardboard app and you’re ready to immerse yourself into some next-generation 3D and virtual apps.

Hands On with Cardboard
The official Cardboard demo app features seven different experiences meant to show the breadth of VR beyond first person shooting games:

  • Earth: A fly-over experiencing featuring different landscapes using Google Earth.
  • Tour Guide: A tour of Versailles 360 views and a local guide narrating.
  • YouTube: Stream popular YouTube videos on what looks like a massive movie screen.
  • Exhibit: A number of cultural artifacts that can be viewed from various angles.
  • Photo Sphere: Finally a way to enjoy those panorama pictures you’ve taken over the years.
  • Street Vue: A radiator-eye’s view of a drive through busy Paris streets.
  • Windy Day: A Pixar-like animated short story that follows a hat blowing through a forest.

Google Cardboard

There are also a number of Chrome Experiments for Cardboard (roller coasters and helicopter rides!), although those are browser-based and can be buggy depending on your device.

Another must-test app is VR Cinema for Cardboard, which renders any MP4 video into a split-screen, 3D movie. Prepare your stomach, because it’s going to get queasy! The app also allows you to turn on your phone’s camera and see the world through 3D (for the very first time?!?). All kidding aside, this app could be great for mock-ups and proof of concepts.

And Cardboard Works with Existing VR Apps
Beyond Google’s apps and those web experiences designed specifically for Cardboard, a handful of developers already have VR apps that can be used with Cardboard, although may experience slow frame rates or require a bluetooth controller to move around:

  • Shadowgun VR: A first-person shooter example of how VR can be used in immersive gaming.
  • Tuscany Dive: A picturesque walk through an Italian villa where you control the path.
  • SpaceTerrorVR: A 3D horror game where your spaceship is forced to land on an unexplored planet and you’re tasked with missions.
  • Flight VR Demo: A two minute demonstration video of flying a realistic plane over snowy mountains.

In doing demonstrations, we found it was easiest to start with Windy Day to let them get acclimated, then move onto the others. We’ve had jaws drop, people squeal in delight and many exclaim they are fearful this could become popular (and understand why it may!). The consensus is that once you’ve watched YouTube on an Imax screen that fits in your pocket, it’s fairly difficult to go back to a 2D browser window viewing.

The Consensus?
Overall, Cardboard is cardboard. And after just a couple days, it’s getting pretty beat up and greasy, to be honest. But the immersive feeling you get putting on the VR goggles is immediate. Although almost everyone has felt a bit of disorientation when removing Cardboard, but they also wanted to try them on again.

Forward thinking marketers know VR is an emerging platform worth exploring as we think about creating next-generation immersive experiences on behalf of brands (see our post on that, Virtual Reality: Science Fiction Realized).

Cardboard is a good step forward into helping us explore where things are headed and how we can help shape those experiences.

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