Like a lot of companies in the tech world, Google has big plans for virtual reality. And for right now, at least, the smartphone is key.
The Internet giant used its I/O developer conference Wednesday to unveil Daydream, a VR platform that will be part of Android N, the upcoming version of Google's mobile operating system. Daydream builds on the success of Cardboard, a platform that has grown to support more than 50 million VR apps, and is scheduled to come to market this fall.
"Over time, Daydream will encompass devices in many shapes and sizes. But today, it's about how daydream will enable high-quality VR experiences on Android smartphones," said Clay Bavor, Google's vice president of virtual reality, during the keynote presentation. "The first thing we did was look at what it takes to build a smartphone that's great at being a smartphone but also at being the core of a VR system. And with input from the major silicon vendors and smartphone manufacturers, we've created a set of phone specifications for VR."
Bavor said hardware partners including Samsung, HTC, LG and Xiaomi will make phones supporting Daydream, and media companies and developers such as Netflix Electronic Arts will make Daydream-enabled versions of their wares. Google will build a dedicated VR section for Daydream apps in its Play store, and the company is developing special VR versions of YouTube, Street View, Play Movies and Google Photos. So the company is clearly trying to kick-start an ecosystem for Daydream.
Google will sell a VR headset and controller similar to Samsung's Gear VR to deliver the experience. And the company is providing a reference design enabling manufacturers to make their own Daydream hardware.
Deloitte Global has predicted that VR will have its first billion-dollar year in 2016, generating roughly $700 billion in hardware sales and the rest from content. Handset vendors such as Samsung and HTC are aggressively pursuing the market, and Google's ambitious efforts are likely create opportunities for other manufacturers and developers. But Jan Dawson of Jackdaw Research warned that isn't going to happen overnight.
"The VR market is still nascent, but over the next year or two we will start to see it become more mainstream, which will increase the pressure on Apple and other holdouts to make a play," Dawson wrote. "On the other hand, the Daydream specs for phones set a fairly high bar, and it looks like no current Android devices will make the cut. New devices should be out in the fall, but this means Daydream-based devices will take some time to build scale."
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