Oculus Rift and Project Morpheus have a new virtual reality playmate – Google Cardboard.
And this newcomer has a very distinct selling point. That being, you can use it today, providing you have a smartphone and access to some cardboard (and a few other bits).
It was created as part of the company's '20 Percent Project' where employees can dedicate a fifth of their time to personal side projects.
“Virtual reality has made exciting progress over the past several years. However, developing for VR still requires expensive, specialized hardware,” Google said. “Thinking about how to make VR accessible to more people, a group of VR enthusiasts at Google experimented with using a smartphone to drive VR experiences.
The result is Cardboard, a no-frills enclosure that transforms a phone into a basic VR headset, and the accompanying open software toolkit that makes writing VR software as simple as building a web or mobile app.
“By making it easy and inexpensive to experiment with VR, we hope to encourage developers to build the next generation of immersive digital experiences and make them available to everyone.”
Instructions on building a unit and the required software can be found here. Note it's not quite as simple as Google sells it and requires a few fiddly components, such as lenses and the optional NFC tag.
A range of software is already compatible including YouTube, flight-sim Earth, Tour Guide, Photo Sphere and Street Vue.
So does all of this make Facebook's $2bn acquisition of Oculus seems a little overblown? There's no doubt that the experiences offered by Oculus Rift and Google Cardboard will be leagues apart. But at the same time, perhaps VR is a dedicated sector that – much like MP3 players, portable video players, sat navs and handheld consoles – could be threatened by the ever-growing smartphone.