Google Doubles Down On Mobile VR With 'Daydream' Ecosystem

Google announced Daydream, which is an entire mobile VR ecosystem, including reference mobile phone specifications, design guidelines for Daydream compatible HMDs, and a software distribution platform built for navigation within VR.

Google IO 2016 kicked off today, and during the opening keynote presentation, Clay Bavor, the company’s VR team lead, revealed the company’s plans to move from the entry level Google Cardboard HMDs to a much more robust mobile VR platform that is "comfortable and approachable for everyone," and better suited to compete with the likes of Samsung and Oculus's Gear VR.

Google’s Cardboard project has enjoyed wide adoption over the past two years, and the company has learned a lot about virtual reality in that time. Millions of people have Cardboard viewers, and there have been more than 50 million Cardboard apps installed to date, but Google said that that was just the beginning. In the fall of this year, Google and its partners will launch Daydream alongside the Android N operating system.

Daydream is a more high-end product than Cardboard. Google has laid out specific “Daydream-ready” hardware guidelines for device manufactures that wish to support the platform. Google is taking performance seriously in this venture; certified devices will have to achieve specific framerate targets and deliver sub-20ms motion-to-photon latency to qualify.

Daydream isn’t just about higher performance, VR-capable smartphone specifications, though. Google has created reference design specifications for Daydream VR HMDs, and for a portable controller with spatial tracking. Google did not go into specifics about the design elements of the HMD, but it did say that Daydream kits will be much more comfortable than Google Cardboard and that they will offer “great optics.” 

The reference design specifications also include guidelines for the Daydream VR controller. The reference device that Google demonstrated is similar to the Oculus remote in appearance, but unlike the Oculus remote, Google’s device incorporates minimal spatial tracking with orientation sensors. Google showed the controller being used to navigate through menus and to play certain games. The controller also features a limited selection of buttons to help you navigate through VR.

Software is the third piece of Google Daydream. The company said it redesigned the Google Play store with VR in mind. You can navigate through your library of content, search for new content, and even buy new apps, all without leaving the virtual reality environment. Google said it has partnered with a large number of big name partners to bring content to Daydream.

The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and CNN have agreed to bring their immersive news content to the platform. Hulu, Netflix, Imax, Lionsgate and other video production and hosting companies have also signed on. Big name game studios are also getting behind Daydream. EA, nDreams, CCP Games, Ubisoft, MinorityVR and others have committed to releasing content when Daydream launches later this year.

Google has also redesigned several of its own services to work well with VR. Google Play Movies and Google Photos will both be supported on day one. Google Photos will even be getting VR photo support tacked on. Google Street View will be upgraded for Daydream VR, too, allowing you to browse the world in an immersive first person format. 

YouTube will be getting an overhaul for Daydream, too. Google said the video streaming service is being rebuilt with VR in mind. You’ll be able to do voice searches to find content, and playlists will be designed for VR navigation. YouTube VR video streaming and spatial audio will be natively supported. Google also confirmed that the entire library of standard video content will be available.

Google did not offer a specific date for Daydream, but it said that the platform will launch this fall with many partners on board. Samsung, HTC, LG, ZTE, Xiaomi, Huawei, Asus and Alcatel will all launch Daydream-ready phones, and Google said there will be many HMDs launched with them.

Developers that wish to get started early are welcome to do so. The SDK for Daydream is part of the latest Android Development kit, which is available today.

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 Kevin Carbotte is a contributing writer for Tom's Hardware who primarily covers VR and AR hardware. He has been writing for us for more than four years.