Why Google Cardboard is Important to VR's Future

It could be the thing that convinces people that they want VR

You may have heard of many of the virtual reality headsets that are out there, but did you know about Google Cardboard? A rudimentary viewer made out of, well, cardboard, you slip your phone in and suddenly you're taken to a VR world. It's basic, with limited functionality thanks in part to the lack of controls available. Perhaps there won't be a lot of serious VR creations in Google Cardboard, but I have 5 reasons to believe that Google Cardboard is very important for the future of virtual reality on mobile and in games.

01
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It gives you an authentic VR experience

Google Cardboard User
Justin Sullivan / Getty Images News

I've used various Oculus versions and the very impressive HTC Vive, but Google Cardboard, despite its lo-fi nature, still does an amazing job at conveying the nature of VR to you. The demos where you explore cities in 3D caused me to feel strong emotions, like I was there. Games work incredibly well, too. While you get only a simplistic experience due to only being able to look and use the cardboard trigger, you can still get the feel of what VR is capable of.

02
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Google Cardboard is very accessible.

R2D2 Star Wars Cardboard
Google

 If you have a phone and a Google Cardboard headset, you have a VR headset and can check out the interesting content already available. Cardboard isn't expensive, there's a bunch of free apps, and Google has even given away many Google Cardboard headsets at various times; they ran a promo for Star Wars: The Force Awakens headsets that proved to be very popular, what with all the Star Wars mania going about. But it also put a bunch of headsets into the hands of people who might not have had them before. This gets a rudimentary form of VR to the masses.

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It leaves you wanting more.

HTC Vive
Mike Pont / Getty Images Entertainment

Google Cardboard has its limitations. The phone coming unaligned in the holder can be annoying. The fact that you have no real controls other than moving your head and the use of the cardboard trigger is very limiting as to what you can do, so most games and apps that support VR right now are very limited. Even the fact that many Cardboard headsets don't come with straps to keep them tethered to your head is a problem for usability. It's clear that Cardboard, at least in its current form, is not a long-term VR solution.

But what it does do is give you enough of a taste of VR to the point that you can see what the value of it is right away. And while it could leave some users thinking that VR is a bit overblown with the limited functionality of Cardboard, it should make you think that with a less-makeshift solution, VR could be truly fantastic. Based on my experience with VR demos in comparison to Cardboard, that's the case.

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It clears a very important hurdle for VR

Samsung Gear VR Users
Chesnot / Contributor / Getty Images

One of the issues with VR is that there's a high hurdle to getting people convinced that VR has value. See, it's easy to just think that VR is about wearing a giant silly headset, and that goofiness is difficult to overcome. Also, VR as a consumer product is tough to get your hands on right now – Oculus headsets are mostly for developers, and Gear VR requires that you have specific high-end Samsung models. Gaming events often have VR setups, and there have been tours for the HTC Vive, but it's still difficult to convince people of the benefits of VR unless they try it out.

What Google Cardboard does is that it lets people try it out. It's not an ideal experience, but it gets the point across. It's like when I demoed Owlchemy Labs' Job Simulator at IndieCade in LA. The game was set up in a tent, and the developers were having issues with the room sensors. Plus, there were cables to deal with and not a huge space. It wasn't the ideal setup. But that doesn't matter – it got the point across that this technology is here and it's impressive.

Google Cardboard won't give anyone the ideal VR experience, especially for gaming with its limited inputs. But it will give people the gist of what the VR experience will be.

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It allows for a wider variety of content.

Land's End by Ustwo. Ustwo

Having a commercially-available VR headset to the masses encourages developers to make VR content, and to make sure that they make mobile-friendly content, not just for the powerful hardware of tomorrow. Right now, VR is still a pipe dream unless you're talking about the Gear VR. Many developers are taking the risks to create VR content without knowing that it's viable for consumers. And many developers might ignore VR development because of the risks. Google Cardboard lets them test out VR and see how to create in it, and to be ready if and when VR becomes a fashionable future. And because Cardboard is encouraging developers to make mobile-friendly content, it means that developers are making things that will work on mobile devices. Mobile might just have a place in the future of VR.

If virtual reality is here to stay, it may have Google Cardboard to thank.

Virtual reality has a potentially iffy future. Will there be interest in it? Will it be ready for consumers when they're ready for it? There's many questions, and reason to have skepticism. But as a first step towards getting people to see the value of virtual reality, we may have Google Cardboard to thank for when we explore the immersive worlds that virtual reality can provide.
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