During Alphabet’s earnings call last week, Google CEO Sundar Pichai spent several minutes talking about virtual reality, saying that Google Cardboard, the company’s low-cost approach to VR, was “only the first step” towards much broader goals in the space. Now, a report from the Financial Times claims that Google’s next step is closer than we thought.
Google will reportedly release a new VR headset later this year. The next-generation VR headset will include “better sensors, lenses, and a more solid plastic casing” according to the FT report. Google will also likely make enhancements to Android to support more virtual reality content.
The headset will likely be similar to Samsung’s Gear VR in build quality and sturdiness, but unlike Gear VR, Google’s headset will be usable with any Android phone. The results will likely vary depending on the phone you use, but it will likely be a big upgrade from the low-cost, fold-out Cardboard headsets.
Google will also reportedly embed the VR viewing software directly into Android, rather than requiring people to download the Google Cardboard app. The update will likely help with lagging issues that plague the Cardboard app and cause many users to get nauseated and give up after a few minutes. Although this will be an upgrade from Cardboard, it will still be a relatively lightweight VR experience compared to the upcoming Oculus, Vive, and PlayStation VR headsets that use positional tracking and external hardware for more immersive experiences.
So when will we finally see all this stuff? Google’s annual developer conference, Google I/O, takes place in May, and experts believe that this is where the Android updates will be teased. That means the next Nexus smartphone(s), usually released in the autumn, may be built for the best possible VR experience on Android. Translation: high resolution and lower latency. That could mean that Google will break the 4K barrier with its upcoming phones.
Google’s also been rumoured to be working with chipmakers to co-develop processors for Android. This could help create silicon that can handle the taxing resources VR puts on any smartphone and make Android an all-around smoother experience, much like Apple’s A-series processors do for iPhones.
VR is only as good as the software powering it, that’s why Google’s also reportedly planning on baking VR features directly into Android. This means when Google showcases Android N, the platform’s next major OS update, virtual reality features could be front and center. The details on exactly how Google is going to “[embed] new software directly into its Android smartphone operating system” are anyone’s guess, but such a plan would theoretically rocket Android as potentially the most pervasive VR platform in the world, all powered by the computer already in your pocket.