Since launching its $10 Cardboard VR headsets almost two years ago, Google has had a very strange, very Google relationship with virtual reality. Though it feels like a hobby of Google’s engineers, Cardboard has quietly sold over a million units. It has sent another million to New York Times subscribers, it has snuck onto the iPhone, and it has some major design talent, Google’s former head of Search design Jon Wiley.
Now, Google is formalizing its intent as Clay Bavor, vice president for product management, who has overseen Google apps like Gmail and Docs while also leading Cardboard under that umbrella, is dropping all other responsibilities to focus on Google VR. This division will include Cardboard, as well as their VR projects like Expeditions, Jump and any other VR efforts.
As reported by Re/Code, Google is experiencing serious VR “FOMO.” While Google is invested heavily in the futuristic, augmented reality headset Magic Leap, that technology is still several years away from reaching consumers. In the meantime, the interest in VR is skyrocketing–mostly thanks to Facebook. The company bought Kickstarter dream Oculus Rift for $2 billion, expanded its team to 400 people, wooed Samsung as a surprise hardware partner, solved the biggest problem in VR interface, and got Mark Zuckerberg promising us all a Metaverse.
Oculus/Facebook will be shipping their first Rift model to customers in just two months, while the investment bank Piper Jaffray estimates that half a billion VR headsets will sell by 2025. Google’s Cardboard has been a sleeper hit, and it’s easy to imagine why the company has been so casual about its involvement in this sometimes laughable, sci-fi world after the mega flop of Google Glass. But it’s time, Google. You know, before Apple shows up.
Correction: A previous version of this story said that Google had created a new division for VR, when formally, Cardboard has always had its own dedicated team.