#304: The Past, Present & Future of Google and VR

I’m joined on the podcast today by Road to VR Executive Editor Ben Lang and Moor Insights Analyst Anshel Sag for a 45-minute roundtable discussion about Google and what they’re doing in VR. We cover everything including Google Cardboard, Jump cameras, the Expeditions educational program, WebVR, Project Tango, Google Glass, Magic Leap, Tilt Brush, voice recognition, machine learning, the Android ecosystem & their complicated relationship with Oculus & Samsung, and predictions about what type of VR or AR HMD that they may be manufacturing.

It’s clear that Google has some significant in the virtual reality space, and we discuss everything that we know about what they’re currently doing and make some predictions as to where we think we’re going in the future.


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Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. My name is Kent Bye, and welcome to The Voices of VR Podcast. Today we're going to be having a roundtable discussion about Google, what they're doing in virtual reality right now, and where we think they might be going. We're going to be talking about everything ranging from Google Cardboard and what they're doing with the Android ecosystem to their investment in Magic Leap and augmented reality and Project Tango, as well as what are they doing with building their own HMD. Is it going to be something that is more akin to a Gear VR or something that's going to be a desktop HMD? So we'll be exploring all these different dimensions of Google, what they've been up to, what we know about them, and what we can kind of make some predictions about based upon what information is already out there. So on this roundtable discussion, I'm joined here with...

[00:1:01.308] Ben Lang: I'm Ben Lang. I'm the co-founder and executive editor of Road to VR. So we've been covering the VR space since 2011 and watching all things, including Google, very closely.

[00:01:13.440] Anshel Sag: And I'm Anshel Sog. I'm actually an analyst covering the VR space for more insights and strategies. I also cover the mobile space for more insights and strategies as well.

[00:01:25.872] Kent Bye: Great. So I guess a good place to probably start with Google and their VR ventures was their Google Cardboard, which When it was launched, I think a lot of people thought it may have been one of their April Fool's jokes, but actually it turns out now they just announced recently that they've shipped over 5 million of these cardboard headsets, and it's really kind of spurred a lot of photo viewing, video viewing, and lots of videos on YouTube.

[00:01:52.459] Ben Lang: Yeah, it's an interesting paradox at this point. So Google launched that a couple years ago and it started as one of their famous 20% projects. So essentially a hobby of some people in the company who said, hey, VR is cool. How do we participate in what's going on at this point? You know, this is before they started spinning up a big VR team and all this stuff. So their idea was, let's create kind of a kit that lets people take their smartphone, which essentially has most of the components you need for a beginning VR experience, let's give them a very easy way to make a holder for it and some simple lenses, just super cheap, low barrier to entry, starting point for VR. And I think as that started to gain traction as that 20% project, the company was like, whoa, whoa, whoa, people are getting really serious about this. We need to get really serious about this. So it went from somebody's 20% hobby project, a couple people on the team, to a very serious part, I think, of Google's forward-looking plan. And I say it's a paradox right now because I think I can confidently say it's the largest platform that a VR developer or someone who wants to put out a VR experience can target right now. But at the same time, it's also essentially the lowest bar as far as VR experiences go. So it's like if you want wide reach right now, it's kind of your only option. But if you want high quality, you have to go with a smaller target audience at this point.

[00:03:23.500] Anshel Sag: Yeah, the interesting thing with Google Cardboard is you can see how it evolved from just being like a cool idea and then you started seeing like movies doing entire Cardboard apps for their launches. And I think that's kind of when people started to realize, Google included, that Cardboard is the platform that they were hoping it would be. And yeah, I totally agree with the thing you said where a lot of people thought it was a joke because it was literally a piece of Cardboard. but even with cardboard they've been iterating it to a point where it continues to get better in terms of user experience and there have been countless times where I think all of us can probably attest to this where you pop a phone in a cardboard and give it to somebody who's never tried VR and they're already somewhat impressed with the experience, even though it's lowest common denominator. And I think that they've really kind of adopted the strategy that they did with Android, which is make it as accessible as possible to as many developers, and make it really development-friendly first, and then figure out the hardware and the performance afterwards. Because the first Android phones were really not fast, they weren't that great, but they were really easy to develop for and that's part of the reason why it was so successful.

[00:04:43.731] Ben Lang: There's actually this really neat little cardboard app that I think is worth plugging here. It's actually officially from Google. And I want to mention it because it's gotten very little play. I think it's called Cardboard Developer Lab or something along those lines. But it's an official Google Cardboard app which introduces mobile and Android developers to what VR is and also gives them the very basics of how they should be thinking about designing for it. So you can get that on the Android Play Store, and you actually put it into a cardboard viewer. And so it is a pretty cool, neat little VR thing that you get to see. And at the same time, it shows you some of the design considerations. For this huge, huge developer community of Android people who are used to creating totally different types of apps, it's a really neat starting point. I wish people would kind of point to it more often because I think it is that great introduction, like you said, for Android developers. And Anshal, I want to ask you quickly, if I can, we're very deep in this VR space. We've watched Google Cardboard and watched it evolve over time and have a sense of we know what they're trying to do with it. and that this isn't exactly the experience they want, they know it needs to be better. But people outside, you know, your everyday Android user and the whole mobile ecosystem are more disconnected, or at least were definitely in the early times. What's been the sense for just your kind of average Android user or people in the mobile market about, is cardboard a big deal when they try it? Do they say this is cool or do they think it's not good and they're equating cardboard VR with the very best of VR?

[00:06:18.466] Anshel Sag: I think a lot of people, when they try cardboard, it really depends on how their expectations are framed. Because if you give cardboard to somebody and tell them, this is the lowest common denominator possible of VR, and it can only get better from here, and then you give it to them, they're going to be blown away. But if they think it's the latest, greatest, and the highest end VR, they're not going to be that impressed. So I think expectations are a big factor when it comes to cardboard. And there are still lots of pretty good cardboard apps that do a good job of utilizing cardboard. And I've used some of those as demos to show people cardboard just because it's easier. It's funny because like last Comic Con that I attended there were a bunch of different companies that were giving out cardboards to show off their movie experiences. So basically everybody had a cardboard and most people who are attending there are not really VR experts or PC hardware geeks. They're mostly just regular people with smartphones and there were lots of people that were taking out those cardboards and just checking them out and they were excited about it because it it's their first introduction to VR and it puts them in a new world even though it's pretty simple of an experience.

[00:07:32.539] Kent Bye: Yeah I really see the cardboard as kind of like the gateway drug for VR and I think you'll find probably it'll end up being a lot of people's first VR experience and rather than turning them off I think they'll actually become more curious about what else is possible You know, Google's been doing different experiments with creating content. I talked to Jessica Brillhardt at Sundance about some of the lessons she's learning about cinematic VR and how to actually construct and edit stories within virtual reality. But I also talked to Jim Giduldek from GoPro, and one of the things he said was with the jump camera, which is, I think the first one's called Odyssey, But of the jump cameras, Google's basically creating like 16 GoPros and they're doing some secret sauce on the back end. They're not just taking the footage and stitching it together. They're like, I think they're doing like a full like digital light field reconstruction of the scene. The quality of the footage that's coming out of the jump camera is really stellar. I mean, some of the pieces that you watch, you can't see any of the stitching lines at all. And so You just imagine what they're doing with trying to take these photogrammetry image processing techniques, and on the back end, they have all this kind of secret sauce that they really haven't talked a lot about yet. But you can imagine that Google has their cars that go around and do the Street View photospheres. And I would imagine that just from those photospheres, from different perspectives, they may be able to already be able to reconstruct the entire Earth. or if not in the future, start to put like a jump camera on top of instead of doing these photospheres, maybe they'll eventually doing entire light field captures of the same coverage of the street view, which you just imagine just being able to kind of walk around anywhere in the world in Google Maps. I don't think we're too far away from that. Sometime within 2016, 2017, I'd expect something like that. I wouldn't be surprised.

[00:09:27.392] Ben Lang: Yeah, that's a really exciting prospect. And I want to add a little bit to that. Not only may we be able to walk around anywhere in the world, but also maybe any time in the world. The fact that Google is consistently kind of mapping these spaces over time means that maybe in 100 years, a kid will be able to look in his hometown and see what it looked like on the streets 100 years ago. And that prospect for me is, I think, just really exciting. You know, I wish I could do that now for some of the places where I go. But yeah, one time I actually I threw on a DK1 kind of in the olden days of VR. But I threw on a DK1 and did a Street View demo of a friend's home that I'd never been to. He had moved away and it was kind of my first chat with him after he moved and he gave me his address. I plugged it in and I threw on the headset. I was like, hey, I'm looking at your house right now. And it was like a really, really cool way actually to feel like in a small way I was visiting and connecting with him. That was super cool.

[00:10:20.543] Kent Bye: Yeah, there's a new app on the Gear VR called Street View VR. which is just using the Google API to do Photospheres and the Gear VR. It's really amazing to just be able to navigate to different places. I actually handed it to my partner and she went to her college that she went to in the United Kingdom and was like walking around the same streets that she used to just seeing what has changed, you know, over all these years. And so, Just that is already bringing back these nostalgic moments. So it's not an official sanctioned Google Street View. And I just personally get really excited to think about how much better it's just going to get.

[00:10:57.032] Anshel Sag: Yeah, plus Google has, specifically talking on that topic, the whole Google Expeditions program they have for VR. That's extremely interesting because it's squarely focused on the educational perspective of having VR in different places and times. And they've done a really good job of aiming it squarely at the educational market.

[00:11:18.568] Ben Lang: Yeah, I think that's a good approach for it. You know, a lot of kids already have smartphones and then being able to have this equipment that might cost $10 or $15 per headset to bring in as a kit into the schools to help kids do something cool and innovative and interesting for their learning, I think is great. You know, it's going to be much easier to do that when basically the kids and the parents have already made the investment in the expensive part of the hardware, which is the smartphone, rather than saying maybe Oculus or somebody comes to the school and says, hey, we have this totally amazing technology, but you're going to need to put up fifteen hundred dollars for each system. On this hand, it's like pretty much the pieces are already there. You just need the holder and you need some software to tie it together. And so I think I think Google aiming in that direction is a pretty good direction to go. I feel like we should take a quick overview of where and what Google is doing right now, what their current projects are out in this VR space. We talked about how Cardboard started small, started as a bit of a side project, has now gotten pretty serious. Over the last 12 months, we have seen Google hire a whole bunch of people specifically for virtual reality. We saw them launch their V2 viewer of the cardboard, which did away with the magnet, which was formerly the way they were doing input, but had some trouble, essentially, with certain phones, and was not the ideal way to go. So the V2 viewer, which is also still cardboard, it's kind of more simplified, it's got bigger lenses, it holds bigger phones. It has an input system that's just a button that taps your screen, just like your finger would for input. So that makes it more compatible for more devices. And then as we talked about, there is Jump, which is their video version of Cardboard. It's a template for somebody to be able to arrange cameras in such a way that They can capture video streams and be able to stitch them together through their jump process and put them on YouTube and all that stuff. And then there's also been, yeah, YouTube 360 support, YouTube 3D support, and a lot of that now available to view through Android.

[00:13:21.003] Kent Bye: There's also Brandon Jones has been working with integrating WebVR into Chrome. I don't know if it's launched more widely yet, but just to be able to, you know, instead of running a VR app from a Unity code base, it's something that's just using all the web stack technologies and JavaScript and everything. So I think that's something that of all the different companies that are out there, I think Google probably has the most vested interest into enabling all the different properties with WebVR to be able to suddenly go into an immersive viewing of Google Maps directly instead of doing it through a third-party app. They also bought Tilt Brush, which was kind of a darling of the initial round of demos from GDC, which is this kind of vector 2D painting, but within 3D space. So you're actually kind of drawing in 3D space. It's not like a volumetric sculpting like Oculus Medium, but It still just does these really amazing drawings in 3D space that you can draw lights and stuff, and it's just really fantastic. And I don't know why they bought Tilt Brush. I have no idea what they're doing with the creators of Tilt Brush, but they certainly bought them and they're working on stuff, so.

[00:14:32.307] Anshel Sag: I think I actually talked to them when we were at the Valve Developer Days up in Seattle. I asked them that very question, and they haven't really gone too deeply into what they're planning on doing, but I know that they already are working on, if they don't already have, a cardboard viewer app for Tilt Brush, so that way you can see what people have done in Tilt Brush. I don't know if they have an option for live viewing. I assume that's something they're probably working on. But they're definitely already working in some Google integration into Tilt Brush. And it would be really cool to see how they take it further beyond just the obvious viewer kind of perspective.

[00:15:12.090] Kent Bye: I also talked to Google Ventures' Joe Kraus at the VRX conference, and they've been making a number of different investments into different companies. For example, Jaunt VR for cinematic capture. They've invested both in the social VR companies of High Fidelity and AltspaceVR. There's a casual gaming company of resolution games by the Candy Crush designer, Tommy Palm, as well as Emergent VR. So I asked Joe about like Magic Leap's investment and he said, Oh, actually that's coming from Google corporate. So Google Ventures did not have enough money. So it actually came from like the, uh, the big fund. Yeah. The big fund from Google to invest half a billion dollars into Magic Leap.

[00:15:54.744] Anshel Sag: Right. I don't think Google Ventures has the kind of money to just dump all that on one investment.

[00:16:00.070] Ben Lang: Yeah, it's interesting to hear people, you know, when you start talking about Google Cardboard and Google's activity in this space, you inevitably start talking about Google Glass and Google's investment in Magic Leap. And I think people tend to see, because it all has the Google name attached, they tend to think that they're all part of a master plan. But really, I think Google is a massive company. And there are a lot of different people trying to do different things. They're in some ways complimentary. But you have people saying like, you know, now looking forward, there is what amount of rumors at this point that Google is creating maybe their own VR headsets that goes beyond cardboard. And then you have people saying, well, you know, what about Magic Leap? How does that come into play? And it's like, you know, I think they are sufficiently kind of quarantined from one another that they're probably developing independently and both potentially exciting projects.

[00:16:48.245] Kent Bye: Yeah, and I actually had a chance to do an interview with Paul Reynolds of Magic Leap back last year, right before GDC. And one of the things that surprised me was him mentioning the stuff about search. Although in hindsight, it shouldn't be too surprising, but he had mentioned something about like the mom test about, you know, if his mom had a more intuitive way of accessing the power of search in a more natural way, then it's going to accelerate everything. And it could be world changing in the way that we access technology. in a totally different way. So I'm thinking that like this immersive computing revolution with more natural interfaces, voice recognition, and somehow Magic Leap is kind of tied into that even though we don't necessarily hear a lot about that in some of their kind of more cinematic releases where they have a lot of pretty graphics and stuff. But because Google is investing, you have to really wonder what's the motivation there.

[00:17:38.360] Anshel Sag: Yeah, it's a bit interesting because the reality is, you know, I come from the PC space and the mobile space but a lot of the PC vendors have been spending a lot of time and money trying to make the PC experience more interactive and have more natural interfaces. But when you have something that's a hands-free experience like VR or even AR, you're basically forced to go to more natural interfaces and more natural interactions with your computer. So I think that VR and AR are basically pushing us in that direction even faster than any of the PC vendors could have done themselves.

[00:18:15.900] Ben Lang: I want to wrap it back around to Google and where they may be headed in the future. So the big key right now is kind of the delta between the Cardboard experience and the Gear VR experience, which for anyone who hasn't been able to try both, Gear VR is the clear leader as far as how good the VR experience is. There's lots of benefits to Cardboard, of course, but it is, I think Google would happily say, we know this needs to get better. It's a goal of ours to make this Cardboard experience better. Ideally, it should be as good Gear VR, right? Because they are fundamentally almost the same platform. They're built on a smartphone, they're both running on Android. The only difference with Gear VR is Samsung and Oculus have done some special stuff on the software side, and also Gear VR headset has a much higher performance accelerometer and sensors in there to achieve better head tracking, but there's no reason in my mind that I can think of why forthcoming smartphones couldn't include that hardware as well, bringing cardboard up potentially to the same kind of Gear VR experience.

[00:19:28.648] Kent Bye: Yeah, I think the dream would be that they would come up with some system where they somehow were able to come up with a way to put just about any phone in there and have the same level of experience that you have with the Gear VR. And whether or not that's something that is going to come, like you say, from the phone manufacturers improving the technology, or whether or not it's going to need, like the Gear VR, some extra help with onboard accelerometer.

[00:19:54.785] Ben Lang: Well, so the current two thoughts out there for Google going forward, what people are thinking they're doing is, A, that they're going to release a Gear VR-like competitor. So this would be a headset that is not cardboard, kind of a plastic one that is designed to reach the Gear VR experience at least. and then B, that they may be working on an entire standalone mobile VR headset. And Shal, I'll throw it to you, of those two possibilities, do you have any thoughts on, you know, what would you say from what you've read and discovered that they would be working on or going toward right now?

[00:20:31.587] Anshel Sag: So from what I've seen and heard, actually most of the developments that I've actually genuinely heard have actually been on the software side that may actually inform what they're going to do on the hardware side. And part of that is that I've heard from multiple sources that Google is strongly planning on basically completely integrating everything that Cardboard has into the Android OS at a very base level, so that essentially there is no cardboard layer on the Android OS. You just have cardboard features built into Android, and you build your cardboard apps for Android, and that's it. Android is almost synonymous with VR. and that makes me believe that they're more interested in creating like a Gear VR style headset rather than creating a full HMD with a processor and a display and all the accelerometers and all the positional tracking which I think they're going to do because I think that Project Tango is going to be involved one way or another into whatever they do for VR And I think that they're going to also try and wind some AR into what they do with the headset. So we could actually see something where they could do like a Nexus style, like an actual HMD, and then they could do a Gear VR style headset for the people who don't want to spend the hundreds of dollars on a full headset. So I think we could actually see a little bit of both. But the reality is that it fits Google's approach more to do a gear VR style product rather than a full HMD with display processor and everything. It really comes down to whether or not they think they can distill the experience to a point where they're satisfied with it if they don't fully control it.

[00:22:24.337] Kent Bye: Yeah, and at the Unity's AR VR Vision Summit, Clay Bevore was there and he did specifically call out Project Tango as being released as a product sometime this year. And the implications of that are having a 3D depth sensor camera on a phone. you could start to do all sorts of like augmented reality stuff as well. So I could imagine sort of a mobile headset with the Project Tango and the depth sensing camera. Now all of a sudden, if you have a pass-through camera that's perhaps faster or as fast with low latency, you know, I think that's been the big problem so far is that the pass-through camera just makes you sick because it can't really keep up with the latency. But if they've been able to crack that somehow, then all of a sudden we have something that could be both a virtual reality headset and an augmented reality headset with something that's like a Gear VR.

[00:23:16.585] Anshel Sag: And the other thing I was going to point out was a lot of people don't really think about this, but Intel kind of showed this from their side. And that was they're combining their RealSense cameras, which are depth sensing cameras, into their smartphone platform and using that for hand tracking. So you could have hand tracking on mobile VR possibly before you have it integrated into any HMD on the PC side just because of Project Tango. And having something like that would make the mobile VR experience significantly better than what it is today.

[00:23:51.960] Ben Lang: Yeah, I think, Anshul, I'm on board with you. Of those two things that have been suggested at this point, a stand-alone headset or a Gear VR kind of clip-in-your-smartphone headset, I think the Gear VR type competitor makes a lot more sense, especially when you look at Google and Android kind of at the top-down level. You know, you think about how Google interacts with hundreds of hardware partners around the world that are making phones to run on Android. You have to imagine that their entire goal for what they're doing with VR is to help their partners sell more smartphones. and to make Android the VR destination. I don't think that they do that by creating a standalone headset that their partners aren't really involved in. Because then, what is the incentive for their partners to get on board that VR train? Instead, I think if they make a pure VR type device which can clip in and work very well with several different smartphones, then they have all their hardware partners saying, oh hey, we're going to make our next flagship phone compatible with that device. or maybe make even our own version based on this kind of footprint seems to make a lot more sense than to go the individual headset route, especially because I think the magic of the whole mobile smartphone thing is that we're all already buying smartphones anyway. We're all already dropping $200 to $500, maybe more, on hardware, which is 90% to 95% of the hardware you already need for good mobile VR. We're already doing that anyway, so to either add that 10% more hardware for maybe a little bit extra cost, or maybe no extra cost depending upon what components they need to put in, to add that and have that just be included in what billions of people are doing anyway when they buy smartphones, compared to asking them to buying a standalone $200, $300, maybe $500 device which has most of the components of your smartphone in it. It just doesn't seem like a very sensible thing to ask your users to do if they're already making the investment, already have these things in their pockets, and are already going to be upgrading, you know, at some point down the road.

[00:26:01.813] Anshel Sag: The other thing I was going to build on that was that, you know, they are trying to fill a gap in the market that exists that sits between Cardboard and what we have with the Rift and the Vive, and they are more likely to lean towards the side of the Vive and the Rift If they do a whole HMD with display and processor and all that, they're less likely to be on the volume side of the pricing. Obviously, everybody always wants to be cheaper so they can sell more units. And if they can get cheap enough where they can make money, that's great. But Google is all about volume, right? They're not concerned about selling 5 million devices and making tons of profit on it. They want to sell 50 million and make almost no profit on it because they make their money in software. So having high volume is really what's going to be the goal here and doing a custom hardware solution with a full-blown HMD is much less likely because if you look at most of Google's hardware efforts that they've done themselves, they've done some fantastic things but none of them really sell in any crazy amount of volume compared to some of the best-selling smartphones.

[00:27:12.119] Kent Bye: Yeah. One sort of point that I want to bring in here too is that I've used a couple of Gear VR applications that use natural voice input, where it does the speech recognition, and it's actually quite good. I don't know if that's coming from Unity or if it's coming from the Android system, but I wouldn't underestimate the power of all the different voice that they've been collecting over the years to be able to do voice recognition, because I really think that with VR, you really kind of want natural voice as an input. Just using the Street View VR, for example, it does an amazing job of just you say where you want to go and then it translates that without you having to actually type. And so freeing us from being bounded from having to either type on a keyboard or directly into it, I think is going to actually do a lot of stuff. So I don't know if you guys have any more insight into Google and what they've been doing with speech recognition.

[00:28:05.631] Ben Lang: Yeah, I think clearly they're at the forefront of accuracy and speed for speech recognition and I think it's going to be hugely important as an interface element for mobile headsets. You know, primarily at this point we are interacting by taking a cursor which is attached to your face inside the headset and pointing it at a menu item and waiting a few seconds for that menu item to activate. Or at best, we're using Gear VR with a touchpad on the side and holding our hand up and tapping as we look. It's not ideal to do that. And I think voice is so useful because not only is it much more comfortable than either of those two options that I just described, but it also jumps you kind of from one place to another very fast. It's sort of like a random, you know, allows for deep random access as opposed to digging into menu hierarchies. You're going to say, go here, go there, do this. not, oh, where's my, you know, whatever the VR equivalent is to file, open, browse the menus, and all that.

[00:29:08.618] Kent Bye: Yeah, and part of Google's whole MO is to do things at scale, because they can do a lot of machine learning on the back end to be able to, you know, for example, their Google Translate is based upon all human language, but they're just based upon existing websites that are out there. So it's not like they have people that are out there translating each page, they have enough volume of data to do this machine learning. And so at the Unity Labs, or at the Unity Summit, I had a chance to talk to the vice president of Unity Labs, Silvio Druyan. And he, I asked him, like, what have you seen in machine learning? That's really interesting. And he actually cited this Google demo that he had seen where You could basically take a chair and, you know, scroll through all the different permutations of a chair just because they have all those images that are out there and they're able to kind of just scroll seamlessly from one to next. So you just imagine what that's going to be able to do if they're having that already and you know, taking 2D images and translating them into 3D objects, you know, they could already, you know, there may be issues with copyright, for example, of not making that readily available. But I could imagine a time in the future where using all that data that's out there, you're able to go into a Google experience and have these rich interactions that are based upon the fundamental concept of machine learning and what that's going to be able to enable.

[00:30:34.482] Ben Lang: Yeah, Google definitely. It is that skill. They're connected into so many people's lives in so many different ways. Having the VR cardboard ecosystem built into the base layer of Android, if that's happening, and being able to easily hook into all those useful services like computer vision and voice recognition and all that, I think is going to be a huge boon to developers working on this project. You think about the huge, massive Android developer ecosystem And if they can turn and point even a small fraction of that toward doing innovative VR stuff by building cardboard in very deeply and making it highly accessible, it's going to really open the doors for a lot of interesting stuff once they have the VR experience that's ready in there. One really interesting thing, taking it back to what you were saying, there's a Street View on Gear VR now, is it's not really kind of an official Google product, actually. It's using the Google Street View API, you said, but it's not a Google app. And that probably can slide for now, but I think the path that Google is heading down with what they're doing with VR in the future is going to create some very interesting, I'll say, politics between them and Samsung, who is, of course, one of their major players in the Android ecosystem, maybe the biggest in terms of the amount of smartphones they're selling. And Android has come out of the gate with Oculus early, and they're currently, you know, if you want VR on Android, the best way to get it is to get a CureVR. but they have their own app store. None of those apps that you download in the Oculus store on Gear VR can run as cardboard apps when you download them that way. And they're trying to lock up this space kind of inside of Android, of being the VR place inside of Android, but I don't think Google wants to give that away. I think that what they're doing coming down the line is going to put them in very direct competition with one of their biggest partners on this particular front, which I think will get really interesting. You know, you look at stuff like YouTube doesn't exist on Gear VR, and you have people who get it and say, well, it's on Android. I figured I'd be able to watch YouTube VR videos in here. But you can't, or at least there's no official YouTube app to do it. I don't think there's come to think of it, I don't think there's any official Google product apps on Gear VR at this point. So it'll be really interesting to see how that turns out, where, you know, who's trying to leverage who for, can we get YouTube on Gear VR, please? Or otherwise, maybe we'll decide to do some other things with our smartphones in the future. I think that's going to get very interesting to watch.

[00:33:21.865] Kent Bye: Yeah, not having YouTube when they announced that Oculus Connect 2 along with Netflix, Hulu, Twitch, you know, it was like... And Vimeo. Yeah, and Vimeo. It was like a huge gap. And so the only places that I've seen YouTube are embedded in things like Altspace VR or, you know, like a social app or in Converge. I know in their early beta they had YouTube, but, but yeah, it's kind of like you, even in the Oculus social, they just had Vimeo and Twitch and no YouTube. And you kind of really want to have YouTube there.

[00:33:51.467] Ben Lang: Yeah, as long as you have access to a browser in VR, technically you can get to YouTube, and as long as that browser in VR supports what a normal browser should, like in Altspace and in Converge, and even in the Samsung Gear VR has a web browser app, and you can actually watch YouTube through that, but I'm saying there's no official YouTube app, and I don't think there will be one until the companies come to some sort of agreement about how they're going to navigate around each other. Google bringing up a Gear VR competitor and trying to take over what Samsung has established so far, and I think they could because it could potentially apply to more than just Samsung phones, that's gonna be kind of an interesting, really interesting battle for what has so many moving parts on so many different levels.

[00:34:38.410] Anshel Sag: Yeah, and what I actually think is interesting about it is you guys are totally right that there is a lot of potential opportunities for them to compete with each other in VR. However, I believe that Samsung is more interested in selling more phones as a result of VR than they are interested in the marketplace and the applications that run on it. I think that's more of an Oculus concern. And if Google were to release a full VR stack within Android, there would be nothing that would prevent Samsung from having that work on their devices and for their devices to work on Google's platform. And even furthermore, for Samsung to be able to potentially move over to Google's platform if they want to. I don't think there's anything that would preclude them from doing so if they think that Google's platform, once it were to come out, would be seen as superior or, you know, better utilization of Samsung's hardware. I think this potential release of Google into the VR space with their own competitor to Gear VR is actually more of a concern, I think, for Oculus than it is for Samsung, because I just don't see Samsung you know, making that much money on the headset itself. It's really about selling the phone.

[00:35:56.577] Ben Lang: Yeah, I think that's a really good point. And I think the only thing that Samsung might want to do is that if they think they could have the superior experience, which they do right now, obviously they want to keep it. Because if that is unique to them, it means that they can sell more of just their phones. Whereas if kind of everybody can get, if every smartphone manufacturer can get the benefit of a cardboard device that has Gear VR quality, then it's kind of a rising tide, raises all boats sort of thing. Whereas for them, they of course want to excel and exceed above their competitors. But yeah, I think that's a very good point. We definitely can't forget how Oculus is involved and so it's at this point a bit of a triangle. So who knows exactly what kind of agreement Samsung has with Oculus, but definitely what Google is working on, if what they're rumored to be working on is indeed the case, there's definitely some threats popping up here for them.

[00:36:56.195] Kent Bye: Yeah, and I think that the whole control of the app ecosystem is something that up to this point, I think Oculus has been extremely cautious in terms of setting a high bar for the quality and also the types of experiences that people are receiving on the Gear VR. So right now it's been really locked down like a walled garden and With the Google Play Store, on the other hand, I feel like it's perhaps maybe a little bit more open and there's less of a barrier there for being able to submit things, but yet it's more driven by word of mouth, grassroots marketing than, say, if you make it into the Gear VR Store. I did actually try to watch a YouTube 360 video using the Samsung web browser app, and I have to say that, like, the level of the quality of streaming was terrible, but also it was just not very responsive, as responsive as it really needed to be. So I think you really kind of need native apps when you talk about like watching videos, streaming videos especially. Doing it through like a WebVR interface through a web browser, it's just not going to be high enough quality and you're not going to be able to kind of dial in. So I don't claim to really fully understand the full political dimensions between Facebook, Oculus, Google, and Samsung, but You know, I just know that John Carmack at Oculus Connect 2 is in the hallway just kind of speaking and saying, you know, he kind of wishes that they had better relationships with Google.

[00:38:25.197] Ben Lang: Yeah, it's really interesting because, you know, it's the same thing, just like there's not even on the mobile end, but on the desktop end, you'd think people, you'd think Google would want people to be able to see YouTube videos easily on the Oculus Rift as well. I mean, they're not even like a competitor in that space, but because they have this mobile stuff and then Oculus is connected to Samsung for this mobile stuff, It all ends up kind of being a big mishmash. If Oculus sells a whole bunch of, and even Vive sells a whole bunch of headsets coming up this year, Google should want to have apps there. But at this point, there seems to be no indication of interest.

[00:39:05.514] Anshel Sag: Yeah, it's kind of surprising because I really thought that, you know, Google would utilize their history on the desktop and kind of bring forth something on the desktop for at least Oculus. But once again, I think it comes down to that Oculus, their marketplace and their platform is fundamentally different from what Google believes, which isn't necessarily a problem. I think it is in the short term, but long term, you look at Google and look at all the apps that they have for iOS, it's not really an issue. But almost every year, there's some kind of contention that occurs between Google and their apps and Apple on iOS. So I think Google is hyper aware of that, and they see that potentially occurring in VR with Oculus. And I think that's why they're being more cautious than I think we would all like them to be.

[00:40:03.254] Kent Bye: Cool. And I guess just to kind of wrap things up, I know that Google has their I-O conference coming up May 18th to 20th. I would make a prediction that they're probably going to make another announcement about whatever they're doing in VR, because that has tended to be when they make these announcements with Google Cardboard for the last couple of years. So that's just coming up in a few months. And yeah, do you guys have any other final thoughts?

[00:40:28.755] Ben Lang: Yeah, well, so with all the hiring that we saw recently that we had tracked down where they're hiring a bunch of different people for consumer electronics engineering roles, making it sound very heavily like they're working on something that they want to manufacture and ship to consumers directly. With that just happening recently, I wonder if they'll be ready to make that sort of announcement at I.O. I think there will definitely be lots of cardboard stuff there. They've always done lots of cardboard stuff there ever since they announced cardboard from the first time they announced it at I.O. Hopefully we'll be hearing more about Jump, because that seems to be moving a little bit more slowly than I think people would have liked. I think the GoPro Odyssey version of that camera is kind of still restricted. You have to be kind of selected if you want to buy one. So hopefully we'll see more on that. And yeah, I'm not sure if they'll be far enough along through their process to announce what might be an upcoming headset right then. I hope so.

[00:41:29.593] Anshel Sag: Yeah, I agree with the fact that they're definitely going to do something at IO. They always do. But I also think that ben's right that i think it'll be too early they made a lot of hires but i think that it's probably too soon for them to launch anything And usually they don't launch actual products at I.O. anyways, it's usually software. So if they're going to make the announcement that they're going to integrate Cardboard into Android, I think they'll do it at I.O. And then they'll probably launch a complete full device or whatever they're doing in terms of hardware towards the end of the year, which is kind of their modus operandi in terms of product cycles. They like to launch hardware towards the end of the year and talk about software around I.O. Obviously, sometimes that changes. Sometimes they do launch hardware at I.O., but it's usually really super software heavy.

[00:42:24.183] Kent Bye: I think that Clay Bevore mentioned something about the Project Tango launching sometime, I think he might have said summer, he may have said later this year, but did you guys catch that? The specific, he kind of had a slide up at the Unity Summit talking about the Project Tango, which, you know, depending on the timing of that could also have other implications in terms of what they're doing specifically with AR.

[00:42:46.492] Anshel Sag: I think that they said they were going to launch something with Lenovo, and that was going to be the first Tango device. And I think it was going to be later this year. I don't know the exact date, but it sounded like it was going to be fall. OK.

[00:42:58.136] Ben Lang: Yeah, it'll be interesting to see. I think there has to be some restriction. If they're doing a Gear VR-like device, I think there has to be some compatibility restriction. It's not just going to work with every single smartphone out there, because every single Android smartphone out there that can do cardboard right now doesn't have the performance to be able to do some serious Gear VR-level quality VR. So maybe that compatibility restriction is also a move to get their hardware partners on Android to start integrating Tango. If they say this headset is compatible with any smartphone that has Tango built in, maybe that is a nice way for them to leverage Tango adoption as well as VR adoption. And to set the bar higher enough for the newer phones, they're going to be able to handle it.

[00:43:45.311] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, I feel like I learned a lot about what's going on with Google and what we might be able to expect over this next coming year. Do you guys have any other final thoughts?

[00:43:55.980] Ben Lang: I'm really curious to see how the kind of politics that I talked about turn out between Samsung, Google, and Oculus, as Anshul mentioned, and even Facebook.

[00:44:05.929] Anshel Sag: I'm kind of just excited to see if we'll see anything from the Android camp on VR at Mobile World Congress. Hopefully, we'll see some more mobile VR stuff. And it'll be interesting to see how it develops over the year.

[00:44:19.918] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, Ben and Aanchal, thanks for joining me today. Thanks for having us, Kent. Thanks a lot. And thank you for listening. If you'd like to support the Voices of VR podcast, then please consider becoming a patron at patreon.com slash voices of VR.

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