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Virtual Reality: Google Cardboard vs. Facebook’s Oculus Like Android vs. iOS
Virtual Reality is here. Its future could transform gaming and entertainment -- and everything else, too.
The question hanging over Virtual Reality (VR) is whether it will truly become “the next great technology platform that’s going to define the way we all connect in the future,” as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has predicted. One can liken Facebook’s roughly $2 billion acquisition of Oculus in 2014 to Google’s $1.65 billion YouTube purchase in 2006.
Some financial analysts have estimated that YouTube would be worth $70 billion if it were a stand-alone company. It was discussed at the time as a “social media” acquisition, but it was really about luring brand advertising dollars to Google, which it has.
But as big an impact as YouTube has had on the market and on Google, VR could have a significantly larger impact. “Could” is the operative word, which is why Google is hedging with Cardboard, a lower-rent version of Oculus that mostly outsources development to third parties.
Earlier today, Google announced that the smartphone Cardboard app is now available in 39 languages. The company also said that Cardboard-enabled third party apps had already seen 15 million downloads:
Google Cardboard is bringing virtual reality worldwide. Starting today, the Google Cardboard app is available in 39 languages and over 100 countries on both Android and iOS devices. Additionally, the Cardboard developer docs are now published in 10 languages to help developers build great VR experiences. With more than 15 million installs of Cardboard apps from Google Play, we’re excited to bring VR to even more people around the world.
The company introduced Cardboard at its developer conference last year. At first it seemed like a joke, but it was a quick, inexpensive way for Google to get into VR and have a product that could one day rival Facebook’s Oculus. There is a range of others in this market, too.
In my mind, Oculus is analogous to Apple and iOS (except that third parties are making the hardware). By contrast, Google is taking a very Android-like approach to Cardboard. It has developed the software platform and is allowing third parties to build the hardware. So far, the Cardboard goggles aren’t very sexy and nowhere near as polished as the soon-to-come-to-market Samsung VR headset (powered by Oculus and priced at $99).
Those who have tried on Oculus goggles, or Cardboard, for that matter, can instantly see how VR could transform (multi-player) gaming, movies, travel, education, sporting events, concerts, commerce, work and, of course,sex/porn. It could equally impact military training and mental health treatment. It goes without saying that advertising would be impacted, as well.
The key to whether VR is limited to games and entertainment — that would still be quite significant and potentially worth billions — or actually becomes a next generation platform is content. If the content developers show up — and many already have — Zuckerberg’s prophecy stands a much better chance of coming true. Any friction in the cost of hardware has already been removed.
As already indicated, in many respects Cardboard vs. Oculus is like Android vs. iOS, complete with app stores. Microsoft has “augmented reality” HoloLens, and Google-funded MagicLeap is also working on augmented reality. Allegedly, Apple is working on VR, as well.
HoloLens and MagicLeap aim to add virtual objects to real-world experiences, while VR seeks to take users inside immersive environments where anything can happen. These are exciting (and potentially troubling) technologies that offer enormous potential — and could further disrupt existing media platforms and modalities.
It will take at least a couple of years and a couple of holiday cycles for us to know how mainstream VR is going to become. But then it took roughly seven years for smartphones to change the market and for marketers to finally “get it.”
VR could well be the next major platform shift. And while it won’t upend all content and computing experiences we know today, it could mark the end of console gaming, radically change filmmaking and affect more facets of daily life than we can currently predict.