There has been a lot of talk about what Google’s next step in VR will be. It has been speculated that «Android VR» will be some sort of standalone Hololens-like headset, or something that you have your phone connected to your own display. It turns out that what Google was actually planning is much more in line with what the company has already stressed, that it’s so important to VR that anyone can enjoy it. The announcement of Daydream as the next step for VR at Google surprised many, but after more explanation from the VR session at Google I/O, it’s clear that Google’s plans are much bigger than what might seem like a simple upgrade to Cardboard.
Here’s what we know so far.
Hardware: VR for many, but not all
Google’s announcement for Daydream included the idea that phones must meet some sort of minimum system requirements to be considered Daydream Ready. Phones that wanted to be able to run Daydream had to offer a top-of-the-line processor, a display capable of significant low persistence, and high-end sensors for accurate head tracking. This means that Daydream-compatible phones will initially only be flagships, and they will need to be more capable than anything we currently have on the market. Google is touting the Nexus 6P as the only reference phone developers can work with until the corresponding reference hardware is released, and it’s been pretty clear on the Daydream developer site that real Daydream phones will be more powerful and feature-packed.
Here’s a rough idea of how Daydream will behave visually at launch: You take your workable phone and put it in a headset that resembles a Google Cardboard-esque head strap. Unlike Cardboard, which is designed for short-term VR experiences while you hold it in your hands, Daydream is designed to be used for extended periods of time while connected to your face. Instead of a Samsung Gear VR-esque control interface on the headset itself, Daydream will rely on a separate controller designed by Google for most interactions on the Daydream system. This controller is a requirement to use Daydream at all — you’ll need a full Daydream set to play in Google VR vision.
The Daydream partners will take the reference design provided by Google and create a headset and controller to match the spec, meaning there will likely be multiple options to choose from at various prices by the time the 2016 holiday season hits. One of those options will be made by Google, and will likely be available with the release of the next Nexus phone (which will run Android N and be Daydream ready out of the box). In the meantime, Google has released a test kit for the Nexus 6P and a smart sticker and emulator for using another phone of your choice as an artificial Daydream controller.
Software: A more complete VR experience
As Daydream expands the VR experience with better hardware, Daydream’s software is also more functional. Following in the footsteps of Samsung Gear VR, Daydream will have a complete VR menu and store system to interact with all your apps and videos. Daydream Home, as it’s called, puts you in a virtual environment with floating windows for all your content. Google is promoting the inclusion of the Play Store as a big feature here, and for good reason. Through the Play Store, Daydream can offer things to developers like in-app purchases and a more complete way to preview apps and videos before users hit the buy button, which Oculus currently doesn’t offer in its standalone store.
Clearly, Google is positioning this experience to be competitive out of the box.
Having an app store is great, but that requires having apps, and Google is tackling that problem head-on. HBO, Hulu, Netflix, IMAX and YouTube are all advertised as (/./youtube-offers-sneak-peek-its-immersive-virtual-reality-app) coming to Daydream and YouTube is doing most of how great it will be for developers to build communities from their experience with 360 videos.
Aside from the videos, Eve: Gunjack Next features prominently on every example of the Daydream Home next to the Daydream Lab. Google already has a lot of great examples of fun cardboard games, but CCP Games’ Eve: Gunjack Next brings games to the level of Samsung Gear VR. Daydream Lab offers examples of virtual reality experiments that are not much different from those seen on the HTC Vive. Google also invited speakers from Unity and Epic Games to share support for Daydream, making it clear that all the tools that game developers love to play with will be part of the experience. When you put it all together, it’s clear that Daydream’s goal is to be competitive with Gear VR on day one.