Google isn’t shy when it comes to virtual reality’s shortcomings. The headsets are bulky. The app design is clunky and confusing. It can be hard to just pick it up and play.
With Daydream, which launched last year, Google tried to right a lot of those wrongs with a fabric VR headset that wrapped around an Android phone. And later this year, Google will launch Daydream 2, code name “Euphrates,” on both select Android phones and newly announced standalone Daydream headsets. With the sequel comes a handful of new, good ideas that will make virtual reality all the less painful to actually use.
Standalone Daydream headsets from Vive (L) and Lenovo (R). [Image: Google]
VR WILL FINALLY LAUNCH INSTANTLY (FOR SOME)
Right now, launching VR on any system is a pain. You’ve gotta insert your phone, or load your PC, or untangle a bunch of stuff–only to find out you have to update some game, or your batteries are low. However, multiple times, Google reps have reiterated that the standalone version of Daydream headsets will load in seconds.
“When it’s on your counter or coffee table, and you can pick it up and in just a few seconds be in VR, you and people in your household will go into VR a lot more often,” says Brahim Elbouchikhi, senior product manager on Google VR. “Lowering the friction to go in VR will make a big difference.” Too bad Google’s phone version of Daydream won’t be quite so quick.
YOUR FRIENDS WILL BE ABLE TO SEE WHAT YOU SEE
A new feature called Cast will let you share what you see inside a headset to a TV and any other monitors–pretty much anything that supports Google’s standard from Chromecast. It will work in every Daydream app, too. This is a great solution to overcome the odd social awkwardness of being with someone who is in VR when you, yourself, are not. Because when they put on the headset, you just sort of . . . just . . . sit . . . there. Casting is a means to make VR a more social experience.
However, developers willing to put in a bit more effort will also be able to build multiscreen experiences with unique gameplay, in which the person wearing the headset could see something different from the people watching the TV. Google has experimented with an app that allows someone to become a performing cartoon animal–the person in VR sees first person, while those watching TV see a third-person stage play. Developers also referenced a trivia experiment in which the VR user sees only the answers or the questions. Not the most fleshed out ideas–but casting is rife for creative app design, since people sitting in a living room could literally control what their friend wearing a headset sees or does next.
ESCAPE THE VIRTUAL WORLD TO SEE TIME AND NOTIFICATIONS
Sometimes, in VR, you find yourself feeling extremely cut off from the commitments in the rest of your life. Even just checking the time can require you to quit a game. Checking your notifications can require you to quit VR altogether.
Daydream 2 has a dashboard with all this information–and then some. Time. Battery life. Notifications. Toggling casting or do not disturb modes. You can even launch your next app without going back to the Daydream home screen. “You hit the system button and it pops up,” says Elbouchikhi.
It’s a small point of UX that makes all the difference. In another presentation, Google alluded to updating Android O to run in a specially windowed VR mode. Details are still scant, but it could further mitigate the chasm between phones and phones running VR.
BROWSE THE VR WEB MORE EASILY
WebVR is a pretty fantastic standard, backed by companies like Mozilla and Google, to make various web pages load as immersive VR experiences. The technology itself is wonderful, allowing you to try VR apps as easily as loading YouTube videos.
In reality, WebVR is very difficult to load. You’ve gotta either tap open a link on your phone, then quickly put on your headset, or try to find a WebVR link that you’d wanted to visit buried in a VR browser–only to toggle various viewing settings to make sure it actually renders properly. It lacks anything close to consumer-friendly UI.
But now, Google has released a Chrome update to Github that’s optimized to make hopping into WebVR easier (we haven’t tried it, so exactly how it will work is unclear), and it will also add WebAR support at the same time, meaning the next Pokémon Go could be a web app. The demo showed onstage was for the furniture retailer Wayfair–whose WebVR app could look at your room, estimate the size, and make various furniture options appear at the proper scale.