google-vr

While the focus of Google’s announcements yesterday was on their Assistant, and how it is becoming an integral part of everything they’re doing, the underlying theme, as explained by Rick Osterloh, Google’s SVP of Hardware, was that “the next innovation will take at the intersection of hardware and software with AI at the center.” What he didn’t point out, but what was evident, was the impact that hardware has on content and interactivity:

1. The advent of VR: On the hardware side, Google VR is going from cheap and cardboard (so much so clones are as cheap as Rs 200) to expensive and fabric layered Daydream View VR headset. So what’s Google done to support its VR rollout?

  • Firstly the Pixel phones are Daydream-ready: Google said yesterday that the phones have low latency. The phone connects to the headset wirelessly, and “you don’t want to think of connectors, cables and wires”. Like in case of Cardboard, you open the latch and put the phone in it, and it works. Google said that other daydream-ready phones are on their way.
  • The Daydream View headsets are comfortable: “30% lighter than similar devices, allow for them to be worn over eyeglasses (something that I’m particualrly keen on). They’re available in three colors (slate, snow and crimson), but hopefully, we’ll see others launch better looking products. Google is giving the Daydream VR headset free with Pixel pre-orders. And it’s hand-washable.
  • The controller brings gaming and interactivity: So far, Google’s VR was a limited experience, only for audiences. You could put on the cardboard, and look around you. That isn’t as immersive as interactivity, allowing you to zoom into things, play games. Adrian McCallister added that Google is working with Warner Brothers to bring JK Rowling’s “Fastastic Beasts and where to find them” experience to daydream, wherein you’re a wizard, and the controller acts as a wand. In terms of education, they’re working with Starchart, which allows users to navigate galaxies using the controller. Google is also getting Gunjack 2 to gaming, where you’re in a cockpit of a spaceship, and use the controller to aim lasers at ships. Other games include Wonderglade, LEGO BrickHeadz, Mekorama, Need for Speed, EarthShape, Danger Goat, Home Run Derby and Hungry Shark World.
  • Content: Google Play movies will work on daydream. They’re also tying up with Netflix and Hulu to bring their library to daydream. From a news perspective, the New York Times brings visual reportage to VR. Google photos, street view and YouTube (of course) are on Daydream.

Google said that it has around 50 partners for bringing apps and games to Daydream.

2. Pushing 4K: Google said that Watchtime has increased 130% for YouTube, and the company has sold 30 million chromecast devices so far. The company is making a strong push for 4K video:

  • Chromecast Ultra, which Google announced yesterday, has 4K, High Dynamic Range (HDR) and dolby support. The Ultra, Google said, “is 1.8 times faster, has major WiFi improvements to support Ultra HD”. It also comes with an ethernet port. This will be available in November for $69.
  • Google play movies will roll out 4K content in November. Netflix, YouTube and Vudu already have 4K support for the Ultra.

3. Bringing Google Assistant to content via Home: Google Home, which the company announced yesterday, allows users to just ask the assistant for songs, which play off YouTube Music, playing both tracks and live concerts. The assistant supports Tune In radio, I heart Radio, YouTube music, Google Play Music. The assistant also knows how to figure out a song, because it uses google search: so you might search for a bands latest song (for example, the latest song from Tune Yards), and the assistant will play it. Google Home also supports podcasts and news, and allows users to cast information into Google Home from your phone.

Apart from this, Home adds voice control for other TV and audio via Chromecast . You can lower the volume of your TV set (“hands free voice control”), pause what you’re watching. Netflix is expected to soon support voice casting via Home. Google Home is priced at $129 (available at Google store, BestBuy, Walmart and Target), and includes a six month trial of YouTube Red.

Apart from this, Google is allowing partners to integrate with Google Assistant, and other device makers will also be able to embed Google assistant via an SDK, which will launch next year.