If you were hoping that Google would announce more details–like availability and pricing–on any of its standalone virtual reality systems during its big Pixel 2 event today, you’re out of luck. Instead, the company unveiled an iterative update of its Daydream View headset, as well as a set of augmented reality experiences and apps.
As was the case when Google launched the original Pixel phones a year ago, the new devices come optimized for both the company’s Daydream VR platform and its all-new augmented reality platform, ARCore.
As explained by Clay Bavor, Google’s vice president of VR and AR at a press briefing earlier this week, the new Pixel 2 phones are packed with sensors–cameras, accelerometers, gyroscopes–meant to enable ARCore apps. Of course, ARCore is designed to work on many different models of Android phones–“north of 100 million” devices, Bavor said–but there’s little doubt that the AR tools and tricks the company unveiled today will be best experienced on the new Pixel 2s.
Those apps include a set of dynamic, interactive AR stickers that can be incorporated into any photo or video. Designed to react to the environment the photo or video is taken in–optimizing lighting conditions, for example–the stickers take the form of characters from TV shows like Netflix’s Stranger Things. Google is also partnering with other content creators on sticker collections. “There’s a movie that takes place in a galaxy far, far away that we’ll be partnering with for stickers,” Bavor said, referring of course to Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
In practice, the stickers provide a fun way to make little interactive photos or videos, and users can insert multiple characters–such as both Eleven and Demogorgon from Stranger Things–and watch them interact with each other in a way that’s natural in the environment in which the content is created. The idea is to let users get creative and enhance the world around them.
Google’s AR stickers are exclusive to the new Pixel 2 phones.
But a slew of new ARCore apps being announced today will work on any ARCore-enabled phone. Those include Houzz, a tool that lets users bring a furniture showroom into their living rooms–similar to Ikea’s app Place for Apple’s ARKit. There’s also Lego, which lets you build models with virtual bricks without the fear of accidentally stepping on the little plastic pieces in the middle of your living room. Another is League of Legends.
New Daydream View
When Google rolled out the first Pixel phone last fall, it also unveiled its Daydream VR platform and the first dedicated headset for that system, the Daydream View, which works by being paired with a phone like the Pixel or any of a number of third-party Daydream-ready handsets.
Now, a year later, the company has a new version of Daydream View that builds on the first version, but which doesn’t move the ball forward all that much.
The major upgrades to the headset are all about comfort.
The new headset is meant to be more comfortable and lightweight than its predecessor, and to better handle the heat being put off by a Pixel that is working hard to process VR apps. The new Daydream View has a built-in heat sink in the face meant to absorb some of that heat, which in turn allows users to continue playing with VR without fear that the phone will slow or even shut down due to overheating.
The upgraded headset also features an improved optical design, new, softer materials, a strap on top for more stability, and reduced light leakage.
All told, there are now 250 apps for the Daydream platform, and as part of the unveiling of the new headset, Google is highlighting a few–notably Female Planet, which focuses on female leaders and entrepreneurs; Austin City Limits Backstage, which brings you up close and personal with rocker Ed Sheeran during a taping of the PBS television show; The Confessional, from VR legends Felix & Paul, focusing on TV host Trevor Noah; and more.
The new headset comes in three colors–charcoal, fog, and coral. It comes with a content pack of five top Daydream titles, and costs $99. It will be available later this year, Google says.
Last May, Google unveiled WorldSense, a Daydream-ready VR system that is meant to power standalone third-party headsets offering positional tracking–meaning that they can track users’ movements in 3D space rather than just having users at the center of 360-degree VR experiences.
At the time, Google said it was working with HTC and Lenovo on the new standalone devices, and that they would be hitting the market by year’s end at prices along the lines of current high-end VR headsets like the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive.
Since then, the prices of those systems have dropped–to $499 for the Rift, and $599 for the Vive. Just yesterday, Microsoft also said that its new line of “mixed reality” headsets from third-party manufacturers like Samsung, Lenovo, Dell, HP, and Acer, at prices from $399 to $499, will be available this fall. Those headsets are essentially tethered VR systems with functionality more or less similar to the Vive and Rift.
While there had been some speculation that the new Google-powered standalones, which would require no phone or PC, would be revealed at the Pixel event, it’s not happening.
Instead, said Bavor, that will happen, yes, “later in the year.”