Google may not be satisfied as the training wheels for virtual reality for long.
The search engine giant is developing a VR headset that would serve as an upgrade option to its cheap Cardboard viewer, according to a report in the Financial Times, citing unnamed people familiar with the plans. The device would have a more solid casing with better lenses and sensors for release this year, though it would built on the same design concept that uses a mobile device as its screen and computer.
Google declined to comment to TheWrap.
Cardboard, which Google unveiled in 2014 just a few months after Facebook announced its $2 billion takeover of VR startup Oculus, was an unabashedly populist plug for virtual reality. Compared with high-powered headsets coming out this year that require expensive computers to run immersive experiences, Cardboard is a DIY box costing about $20 that creates a hand-held VR viewer with a few simple folds by slipping your smartphone behind plastic lenses.
It lacks the same immersive fidelity as an Oculus Rift, available for preorder for $599, or even Samsung’s $99 Gear VR, which is a more high-quality riff on Cardboard’s premise. But Cardboard has been a helpful educational tool to acquaint consumers with an unfamiliar new format en masse. The low price enabled the New York Times, for example, to mail more than a million Cardboards to home-delivery subscribers so they could watch a 360-degree short film created for the paper’s weekly magazine.
By creating a higher-quality version of Cardboard along the lines of Samsung’s Gear VR, Google gives itself the opportunity of following a consumer’s progress into the new format, rather than being limited as the entry-level option.