At Google I/O today, the company announced a new mobile-centric VR offering called Daydream. The nicely-named Daydream VR builds off of a mobile device platform, much as the Samsung Gear VR add-on device does for Samsung S7 smartphones. Daydream combines three elements:

  • Android N smartphones optimized for VR. As Samsung has shown with its successful Gear VR efforts, it takes a high-end smartphone with deep pixel density and great graphics performance to effectively drive VR experiences. Google announced that a variety of handset vendors — including Samsung, LG, HTC, Huawei, and others — will release smartphones that meet the new Daydream standard. Additionally, Android N will include a number of VR-specific performance optimization features.
  • Reference design for headset and controller. Google also announced a reference design for both a headset and a controller (see photo). Importantly, the controller is aware of where it is in 3D space, allowing users to interact more richly with their controller than, say, an unseen controller.
  • Applications and Google Play distribution. Google will move some of its own offerings to Daydream. They've rebuilt Youtube to be more VR-aware, allowing a variety of new video content to be streamed throught Daydream. Google StreetView will come to VR, offering people a more powerful way to explore real-world environments. 

Google's Daydream Reference Design:

From what we saw in the brief I/O presentation, our initial belief is that Daydream will play a critical role in driving forward the VR ecosystem for both enterprises and consumers. Why?

  • Cardboard isn’t a great experience. Though inexpensive — the New York Times distributed over 1.3 million units to its subscribers — Cardboard is a double-edged sword. While it's cheap, portable, and quite accessible, it's not particularly immersive or performative. Some users will say, "what's the big idea, I don't see VR as powerful" because of its performance limits. 
  • Mobile-centric hardware has mass market reach. Instead, an affordable add-on that leverages powerful new smartphones has a great chance of driving market penetration. Recently, Facebook announced that more than 1 million people used the Oculus-affiliated Samsung Gear VR in April, 2016. Broader offerings from more handset makers will offer both consumers and enterprises opportunities to leverage VR. Six Flags is deploying Gear VR devices on its rollercoasters, and real estate agents are experimenting with showing properties on the smartphone-based VR platform. 
  • Adding a controller adds crucial participation. The HTC Vive has shown how powerful hand controls — which can be seen by the user, imitated in VR — can be. Oculus Rift won't have similar controllers (Oculus Touch) until perhaps later this year or 2017. The controller moves the user from being a consumer of media to a participant — a key benefit of VR.

In a forthcoming report (which will publish to our CMO role in the next week or so), we take a deep look at the VR market, including forecasting an estimate of demand for various VR devices. Keep an eye out for that report (and others) on the emerging virtual reality space.

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J. P. Gownder is a vice president and principal analyst serving Infrastructure & Operations Professionals. He covers innovation in the context of disruptive devices — from PCs to mobile devices, augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR), digital signage, and robots. Onalytica named him one of the five most important people in the world in the area of wearable computing for 2015. Follow him on Twitter at @jgownder.