The battle between business barons is nothing new and there has been a great deal of information on how Steve Jobs were hostile against Google. Facebook’s ambition is to establish itself as an ultimate technology company and it’s banking a lot on emerging technology such as virtual reality.
Mark Zuckerberg,Facebook’s CEO, believes that virtual reality powered by big data is the future. That’s precisely the reason it’s depending on the Oculus Rift VR headsets which transports you in the computer simulated environment.
Google has different plans. It thinks that as smartphones have completely gobbled up digital cameras, it will do the same for virtual reality devices.
“Virtual reality will have an important role to play in entertainment, communications, work, and learning and Cardboard will be the way that we make these immersive experiences available for everyone.” says Clay Bavor who heads the Google’s virtual reality project.
Both Zuckerberg and Sergey Brin agree about the power of virtual reality, but they are trying to achieve this through different ways and only one of them will survive in the end. Facebook acquired Oculus Rift in $2 billion in 2013.
Oculus Rift VR, priced $599 is trying to bring immersive experience through a separate headset. Facebook main aim is to provide high-end Rift experience. In contrast, Google Cardboard is trying to be compatible with iPhone and other Android smartphones.
Google will provide the cardboard placeholder free and other companies can sell it in $10. It has sold more than a million cardboard kits. Google is sending the cardboard kits to schools with a special version of app that allows teachers and classroom 3-D tour of a coral reef of Machu Pichu.
There is no doubt that Facebook’s Oculus Rift VR provides a much better virtual reality experience. But the flow of technology that has made the Rift a possibility—may actually tilt the game in the favor of the cardboard.
The cost of sensors have drastically come down and smartphones prices have come down. It has affected the sale of special purpose devices such as location specific GPS devices and PCs.
“There’s a set of enthusiastic users, me being one of them, that’ll be willing to charge and plug in and assemble these things, and we’re going to have a great experience,” says Google’s Bavor. His team is working now on high-end VR technology through smartphone.
So Google is trying to achieve this through the existing mobile phones which will be more affordable. It believes that the future of VR goes through mobile phones and for Facebook it goes through a separate headset. For masses, Google’s approach seems more consumer friendly.
The company is trying to develop YouTube as a platform to deliver its content. It does not require strap headset also. So you have already this device in your pocket and that it turns into a good VR viewer.” Says Bavor. So he believes that VR experience can be delivered through a mobile device in your pocket.
But there are challenges as well as current smartphones hardware are not VR compatible and that’s the reason Google’s cardboard offers a low quality virtual reality experience. The latency in the cardboard is quite high.
Google knows its limitations quite well and it’s talking to manufacturers to resolve its limitations.
Google is in talk with Samsung that has 1.4 billion headsets around the world. Manufacturers want VR for their high-end headsets.
The Oculus Rift with the help of games controller from Microsoft’s Xbox will also sell complicated controllers to manipulate and grab virtual object. On the other hand, Google is trying to make virtual reality into a casual experience like you watch online video or television. So it’s likely to win a mass audience and win the virtual reality war.
Google understands the limitations of the limited processing power of smartphones. It’s trying to get over this problem in a different way. Recently, it has introduces a new audio feature that optimizes the smartphones CPU processing power.
The feature provides a better audio immersive experience to its users. Good part is that companies have already started producing content for Google Cardboard platform. Mercedes and Volvo have already made Cardboard apps for promotional purposes.
“Anyone with a smartphone and a Cardboard will be able to see the most beautiful places on earth and participate in important events and moments in history,” Bavor says.
The problem for the Google Cardboard is pretty interesting and it applies to all virtual reality headsets makers. Consumer will buy the virtual reality headset only when it has good quality content that will provide them a different level of experience. On the other hand, gaming companies won’t produce a content until they are sure of having a ready audience. Therefore, it’s a first chicken-and-egg like problem.
“The only way to get around it is to subsidize one side of the market,” says Michael Cusumano, a management professor at MIT. “Give away 3-D viewers, or pay software developers to create applications or other content.”
Google is trying to do the same. It’s in fact subsidizing both side of the market. It’s making Cardboard a mass product by freeing out with additional headset; it’s offering content partners a ready larger audience.
The strategy seems more practicable. Experts are of the view that both Google and Facebook projects will disappoint initially.
However, the journey won’t be that easy. It will take years for Google to provide a widely acceptable high-quality VR experience to people which is the main aim of virtual reality technology.
Bavor understands that Google will have to learn a lot and it will have to partner hardware manufactures to make smartphones capable enough to provide a good quality virtual reality experience as sensors and processing power will have to improve a lot from here.
It will be interesting to see who will wins the virtual reality war. And better possibility can be that both of them will coexist in the market.