25 Feb

Fredricks Design Review 1: Google Cardboard

Google Cardboard

I had a vivid flashback this morning. During the assembly of a Google Cardboard at my desk, I time-traveled to 1986 and relived the unboxing of my first Nintendo console. The simplicity of the setup and the anticipation of hours of novel entertainment through technology found some very common ground in my mind, triggering that great memory. I’ll never forget the first time the red Nintendo logo popped up on the tube with a satisfying *buh-ding*. The Nintendo was much more difficult to setup than the Cardboard but I was only three years old and the instructions didn’t explicitly say to have the TV on channel 3 (ok, maybe they did but I was way too excited to smash bricks and blast some ducks).

The Cardboard viewer that we ordered for four bones came in a non-descript package without any instructions. A quick search gave me a couple of pointers about the lens orientation (curved side away from your face) and I was up and running in a few minutes having preinstalled the Cardboard app on my Droid Turbo II.

I had the pleasure of experiencing the Oculus Rift in its very young days. I entered my first Cardboard experience knowing that it’s a completely different apparatus as to not spoil my good time. I fired up the app, took a deep breath, and held the crude box to my noggin.

The welcome video begins with a dark environment with some small, crisp text to ease you in a bit as some flying shapes move out of your sightline. This cues a look around to confirm that even though you simply put your phone in a brown box, you are in fact experiencing VR. Some striking sample environments soon follow. Most of them feature moving objects and sound to increase their believability. The jungle environment was one of my favorites from the intro; you’re inserted next to some mammalian buddies in a dense virtual canopy. I’ll admit, it was a pleasant shock. Right on!

I tried and failed to get through all of the demos before needing to cruise around the office, offering up test-drives for those who hadn’t yet experienced VR. For a few, it was their first dance with a VR setup. “Wow” and “whoa” were probably the most commonly cited reactions. That’s the thing about VR though; it needs to be experienced firsthand in order to really understand the attraction and recent media stir.

Our impressions of the Cardboard viewer (keep in mind that we got our hands on nearly the most cost effective model ($4) vs. almost free by ordering templates and cutting it out yourself)?

  • Low barrier to entry: If you have four bucks or some cardboard, a smart phone made in the last five years, and can fold cardboard along predetermined creases, you’re probably in business.
  • Surprisingly cool: Putting your phone into a cardboard box doesn’t really lead one to expect such an immersive experience. There were skeptics here until they tried it. They’re down with the program now.
  • Get past the latency and other drawbacks: Keep in mind that this is an introduction or a “starter set” to get into VR. The heavy hitters like Oculus Rift have faster processors (vs. most phones) and finely tuned optics delivering mind-blowing experiences on the daily.
  • An emissary from a new realm of creativity: Google’s intent is to proliferate the development of VR and VR apps. We began asking ourselves how we can apply this to our work with clients. It’s a simple piece of technology that opens huge doors of thought; it’s badass.

VR is nothing new but it just hasn’t been practical until recently. Miniaturization coupled with the advancement of processing and display quality has given VR new life. There is so much to explore and understand. When you start to think about the other senses and how they can be tied into your VR experience, things start to get very strange and hard to ignore. It’s the start of something big but where will it go? Where can we go with it?

My relationship with video games started on that beautiful day in ’86. I can’t explain the attraction but I know I love it. The passion for mashin’ some buttons will never leave me and it makes me wonder how I will feel about VR in 30 years. It’ll likely come sooner than I wish.

Now that you know, go out there and get yo-self some Cardboard (or Samsung Gear VR or Oculus Rift if you have the coin)! Cheers!

Stay tuned for Fredricks Design Review 2: Augmented Reality. Whaaaaaat!!!???

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