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InfoQ Homepage News Smartphone-Based VR at a Dead-End with Google's Demise of Daydream VR

Smartphone-Based VR at a Dead-End with Google's Demise of Daydream VR

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Google's decision to stop supporting its Daydream VR headset seemingly marks the end of phone-based virtual reality, a vision that attempted to combine the use of smartphones with "dumb" VR headsets to bring VR experiences to the masses. Google's decision is accompanied by the BBC disbanding its VR content team after two years of successful experimentation.

The lack of support for the Daydream VR headset in the latest Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL phones Google announced at its Made by Google 2019 event was first spotted by Venture Beat, which subsequently got in touch with Google to receive a formal statement.

We saw a lot of potential in smartphone VR — being able to use the smartphone you carry with you everywhere to power an immersive on-the-go experience. But over time we noticed some clear limitations constraining smartphone VR from being a viable long-term solution.

According to Google, two main factors drove their decision. First, said Google, it turned out users were not that willing to live without their phones while they were using them as VR displays inside of the Daydream headset. That was the cause of immense friction, in Google's words. Furthermore, neither developers nor consumers were ready to jump on the new technology, in spite of its relative accessibility in comparison to alternative, standalone VR headsets. All in all, Google saw declining Daydream adoption.

One of the most interesting experiments built around Google Daydream and other smartphone-based VR headsets like Samsung/Oculus Gear VR, was the BBC's VR Hub, which has also come to an end recently.

The VR Hub, launched in November 2017, has created cutting-edge VR films across news, comedy, drama and history, winning praise at the Tribeca, SXSW, Future of Storytelling, Sheffield and Venice film festivals and multiple awards including the Rose d’Or and the Raindance Best UK VR Experience.

Among its most significant achievements, the BBC's VR Hub highlights two research projects that explored the impact that maximizing the sense of presence and embodiment can have on audiences and the ability of VR to provide more memorable experiences than other media.

In its statement to Venture Beat, Google confirmed its commitment to AR technologies such as Google Lens, AR navigation in Maps, and the use of AR in search. The BBC, on its side, also confirmed its interest in VR and the intention to continue showcasing their VR work with the support of UK libraries.

Google Daydream is a VR platform built into Android along with an external headset capable of hosting a compatible Android device to be used as a VR display. Derived from the original Google Cardboard VR viewer, the Daydream headset is thus a simplified VR headset similar to the Oculus-powered Samsung Gear VR, which Samsung also stopped supporting in its more recent phones.

While the demise of Google Daydream and Samsung Gear VR signals a halt in the evolution of smartphone-based VR, this does not mean VR is dead. Rather, the focus will now presumably shift on standalone headsets like Facebook/Oculus VR's.

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