Folks who attended the Google IO conference in 2013 got a free Chromebook Pixel worth $1,300. A year later, Google gave attendees a piece of cardboard…

But Google Cardboard was a surprise hit of Google IO 2014, because when you followed the company’s instructions to fold up the cardboard, insert glasses, and then put your phone inside this $10-$15 gadget could transform a smartphone into a virtual reality system.

The idea was to create a cheap, simply way for people to try virtual reality without spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on a VR-ready PC and headset.

And it sort of worked… for a while. And then it sort of fizzled out. Last month Google confirmed that it’s pretty much phasing out active development of its phone-based virtual reality software and hardware.

Folks who want to keep the dream alive can do that though — because the Google Cardboard SDK is now open source.

The SDK includes tools developers can use to create VR experiences for Android and iOS devices and includes support for motion tracking, user interaction, and stereoscopic rendering (which creates 3D-like imagery by displaying a slightly different image on the left and right sides of the screen.

That said, Google pretty much gave up on its follow-up to Cardboard (called Daydream) largely because people weren’t using it very much and there wasn’t much incentive for developers to jump on the platform. So I’m not sure that the open sourcing of the less-powerful Cardboard SDK will lead to much new development.

Rather, I suppose the key benefit here is that a piece of computing history is now available for anyone who wants to use, examine, or modify the code.

So I guess we’re back to where we began with smartphone VR — Google doesn’t so much consider it a viable alternative to standalone or PC-based virtual reality systems so much as a cheap and accessible entry point. Maybe that explains why the Google Store is no longer offering the $79 Daydream View VR headset, but you can still buy a Google Cardboard Kit for $15 (or a 2-pack for $25).

via Hacker News

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5 replies on “Google Cardboard goes open source (as Google moves away from smartphone VR)”

  1. The problem was, Google kept marketing Cardboard early on as a “cost friendly alternative” to PC headsets, but required $500+ phones to make it work. By the time they actually got it working on most phones, everyone I knew who had tried it and couldn’t run it on their handset had already given up on the idea.

  2. I’ve heard it suggested (as a joke, I think) that the boxes that smartphones come in should be designed to be converted into headset shells.
    Google might actually have been able to move farther forward with VR if that was the norm, but that would require an industry wide ad campaign to try to trick people into believing that wearing your phone’s box on your face was normal and expected behavior, which might have not worked and left a bunch of unused lenses lying around.

  3. It’s so sad just how CLOSE Google came to near perfect smartphone VR, remember Google Tango? It was known and advertised as being an advanced AR implementation for smartphones using similar tech to the kinect, however what few people realize is that the tech was also being tested for use in VR (and it looks like it would have very well according to the footage seen here: ) as it allowed accurate inside-out tracking (yes the thing people are going crazy for in newer VR headsets) and it COULD have become a standard in smartphones had Google kept up with it, unfortunately Google did not get enough app devs and panicked when Apple released ARkit, so they gutted the work done for Tango to work for phones without the necessary hardware, effectively killing the idea of accurate inside out tracking for smartphones. Google not sticking to its guns and insistence on parity with Apple devices is what killed a potentially major shift in smartphone technology…. but no we all needed to have a notch now didn’t we….

  4. Hey Brad, saw that you deleted my comment, don’t know if it was just for clarity or something since you did make an edit. I hope you take my comments as just gentle ribbing and not anything malicious. I love your site and visit every day!

    1. Oh yeah, no worries — I’ve just taken to deleting comments calling out typos from time to time because once I’ve fixed the error, the comment doesn’t make any sense to readers who didn’t see the original text.

      I appreciate when people do point out mistakes, because otherwise I might not notice them (I have a habit of making my headlines that don’t fit into the WordPress text box… so sometimes I forget that they’re a work in progress)

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