When Google first announced Google Cardboard in mid-2014, I made fun of it. But I was wrong: Google Cardboard is awesome, and unlike Microsoft’s HoloLens, it’s here now, really works, and exceeds expectations. And it’s only gotten better with some high-profile improvements this year, including today’s release of a Cardboard Camera app for Android.
The thing about Cardboard is that it’s so simple, so incredibly low-tech, that the knee-jerk reaction—well, my knee-jerk reaction, anyway—is to reject it out of hand. Don’t make this mistake. Google Cardboard is an inexpensive and incredibly effective way to enjoy virtual reality (VR) experiences on your iPhone or Android handset.
Google Cardboard encompasses an app—and, now, multiple apps—on your smart phone and a cardboard-based viewer. There are inexpensive options available via the Google web site, and you may have heard that New York Times subscribers received one with their Sunday paper a few weeks back for free.
I have two Cardboards, a Knox Labs unit that was about $23—I bought it right before our home swap this past summer—and the one that The New York Times provided. They both work similarly: You fold your smart phone into the front flap, secure it with the provided velcro, and then look through the eye pieces as you would with a Viewmaster or binoculars.
You control the Cardboard experience by moving your head around to locate on-screen items and select them with a single button, which triggers a soft-covered simulated finger-press on the phone’s screen. It’s all pretty intuitive.
The central Cardboard experience is of course the official Google Cardboard app, which is used to pair your phone with a particular Cardboard model by scanning a code printed on its side. From there, the app just provides some demos, which help you figure out the interface.
The demos are cool. But where Cardboard really comes to life is with apps that have been custom-designed for VR. I’ve only use a few, but they’re both awesome.
The first is The New York Times’ NYT VR app, which works on both Android and iPhone. This app provides video stories you can look around in, seeing the scene from any angle. They’ve done recent stories on the Paris attacks, Syrian refugees, and more, and each is like an immersive movie.
The second is Google Street View for Android and iOS, which works like the Street View functionality in Google Maps, but also provides Cardboard compatibility for a fully immersive experience. I’ve used Street View in Maps to virtually visit other places many times—usually Paris—but doing this with Cardboard really turns things up a notch, and you can use that one button on the Cardboard to move down the street. You look around in the real world to change directions and just look around. It’s amazing. Like lump in the throat amazing.
Street View is awesome, and Google and its users have posted special collections of high-quality scenes in many key places. But what about your own places and experiences? That need was just answered today with the release of Cardboard Camera, which is for Android only for now.
This app is a bit basic in that it essentially lets you create 360 degree panoramas that can be viewed in VR with Cardboard. But it cannot (yet?) create fully immersive experiences where you can look up and down. It’s just left-right in a circle. It’s still pretty great, but I expect this to improve over time.
And, sorry, HoloLens fans, but the field of view—except on the just-released Cardboard Camera app–is what really sets Google Cardboard apart. You can look up, down, and around in any way. Your field of view is your actual field of view.
What a concept. Google Cardboard is awesome.
Tagged with virtual reality