Google is Not Planning to Challenge Oculus Quest…at Least Not Yet
Google has told CNET staff writer Scott Stein that it is not about to release a VR competitor for the recently launched, consumer-focused standalone virtual reality headset Oculus Quest. Instead, Google’s head of VR and AR is saying that its current focus will be in rolling out services, with “deep R&D”.
Also, exclusive: Google tells me a VR competitor from Quest isn't coming from Daydream. Not yet, at least. #io19 https://t.co/398ezwMLNs via @CNET
— Scott SteiO19 (@jetscott) May 7, 2019
It was thought that by upping the minimum requirements for virtual reality input, the new Oculus Quest along with the upcoming Rift S, might force Google’s hands into updating its Daydream hardware to match that of the competition. But Google seems unfazed so far.
During Google’s 2019 I/O developer conference, the tech giant revealed how Lens and Google search are advancing deeper into the phone applications of augmented reality. However, when it comes to virtual reality, which currently feels like a frontier on the verge of a consumer explosion and mainstream adoption, Google has chosen a different approach away from a head-on race to the top with its key competitors that have been releasing some stand-out virtual reality headsets recently. New virtual reality headsets such as the Oculus Quest, Oculus Rift and the HTC Valve Index have already hit the market and there a few more on the horizon such as the HP Reverb, HTC Vive Pro Eye and new Qualcomm chips that promise users new cutting-edge technology and level of immersion.
However, instead of plunging into the cut-throat competition for the consumer VR hardware market, Google is shifting its focus towards services and apps as it works on something behind the scenes over the longer term. With no hardware update plans at the moment, many of Google’s Daydream customers might have to shift to the other medium range VR hardware options from Oculus, Valve or HTC. Many had expected that Google would follow suit after the recent spate of hardware updates.
With the stiff competition and a market that is expected to get more crowded later in the year, the Daydream platform now looks as good as dead. Both the Google Cardboard and Daydream offer a relatively woeful performance compared to the high specs and dexterity of some of the recent hardware releases. The likes of Oculus Quest and Rift have the potential for mass appeal as they provide users with a middle ground between the woeful performance of the Cardboards and Daydreams, and the ultra-high cost of the high-end virtual reality headsets.
Google’s emphasis will now be on the apps and services along with the “bright spots” where immersive technologies are most likely to be useful in the future, according to a statement sent to CNET by its VR/AR head Clay Bavor. Google is already doing some marvelous things as far as immersive apps and services go. Its Tilt Brush will be one of the launch titles on Oculus Quest, Youtube VR already has more than 1 million videos which is currently the biggest repository of virtual reality media in the world and there is also the Google-owned VR studio Owlchemy which is behind the popular VR titles Vacation Simulator and Job Simulator. As competition for VR hardware heats up, content remains the unexplored El Dorado that will make or break the forward trajectory of virtual reality. VR devices will need good content to remain relevant and viable and currently, with demand increasing, VR gaming is becoming a very promising niche.
There will be no Google VR hardware in 2019 which is quite contrast from 2018 when the tech giant was at the forefront of the rollout of new VR hardware to the market with a standalone Lenovo Mirage Solo with Daydream and dual-lens 180-degree virtual reality pocket cameras. In 2017, Google also launched an enhanced version of its phone-based Daydream View headset.
It seems that for the foreseeable future, with Google’s efforts focused on the games and apps such as Tilt Brush for Oculus Quest or Owlchemy’s Job Simulator, Google will be building services for the Oculus VR hardware. Google’s finest hardware for the short to medium term will be made by Oculus. However, Google has also indicated that it is working on something but not much is known yet about this new mysterious hardware.
Google’s Bavor has stated that the tech giant is currently in “mode of R&D” as far as its hardware plans are concerned. The company is working on the building blocks that will help it make more compelling experiences in the future. Google has directed developers who still want build something in Daydream to focus on the Lenovo Mirage Solo as the dev kit. The Lenovo Mirage Solo is in some ways similar to the recently launched Oculus Quest headset. For example, it has the 6-degrees-of-freedom (6DOF) headset tracking through its built-in cameras and sensors, and it also uses the same Qualcomm Snapdragon processor as the Quest. Last year, Google experimented with the 6DoF controller dev kit in a bid to make the Mirage Solo headset more attractive to the developers. It has also incorporated a passthrough mode with the use of cameras for AR experimentation.
Bavor says Google’s future immersive hardware will put a premium on utility to help bring forth new kinds of useful experiences in newer form factors. Google is hoping to replicate in AR and VR environments the kind of success it has had with the smartphone form factors.
For now, it is not yet clear what Google’s next “deep R&D” piece of hardware will be. Will it be a virtual reality, augmented reality or mixed reality experience o something completely new?