Not to be mistaken with their current screen saver name, Daydream is Google’s upcoming VR ecosystem. Offering a lot more than the current Cardboard, Google is taking a slightly different approach on the software as well as the hardware. Both Cardboard and Daydream are part of Google VR. In fact, Daydream uses the new API of GoogleVR SDK used to program both for the new platform as well as for Cardboard. Offering a bunch of new features, including user input, spatial audio and 3D calibration APIs, the real test will come from the user interface and the content. Google VR is the whole VR initiative by Google. Daydream Labs is a place to experiment with the whole VR universe, not just Daydream, and already showed several projects on the HTC Vive. You can also find projects like Tilt Brush (yes the amazing 3D painting app for the Vive), Cardboard, and their GoPro rig to shot 3D 360 videos: Jump. All the info are available at : https://vr.google.com/
It`s good to know phones have to respect specific requirements to be certified and work with Daydream, any phones will still be compatible with Cardboard. More details were given about those requirements and cNethas published a hands-on with the first Daydream ready phone: ZTE Axon 7. It`s using a 9-axis gyroscope for head tracking requirements revealing one of the required sensor, but no sign of Project Tango like tracking and environment mapping. Other requirements is to have a powerful CPU with SoC (System on Chip) to make sure the phone is powerful enough to deal with VR. The ZTE Axon 7 has a 2.2Mhz SnapDragon 820 (quad core) with 4Gb of ram (with a 6Gb model that will most likely only be available to China) and most launch devices should have something similar in terms of specs. Daydream ready phones should be coming out as Fall approaches, but you can already make a development kit out of a Nexus 6P. Be warned that the Nexus 6P is not considered a Daydream ready phone (many opposing info out there, but google stated that users wait for the next wave of phones) as it does not hold the required components, but it’s a good device to start making apps and games for the new VR platform. Google hopes to put a Daydream ready phone in hundreds of millions of pockets by 2017 and my prediction is that everyone will have a VR phone in their pocket by the end of the decade. Currently there’s a commitment from LG, Samsung, HTC, and many more to make Daydream ready devices for a Fall launch, and ZTE Axon 7 has already been released to the Chinese market. They also announced their own Daydream headset, obviously modeled after the Gear VR.
But Google does not stop there. They also want to control the content a little more than they used to on the Play Store. While apps and games does not need to be approved for release and will most likely be covered for publishing by the standard Google Developer account, they will make sure that submitted content works seamlessly across the different phones. Games not reaching their standards won’t be able to be published (or will be removed) from the Daydream store. This approach is a winning situation for the users as the content will be curated and filtered so awful VR apps with crappy frame rate or giving VR sickness will not make it to the devices. We can still expect apps that can be installed outside of Daydream, just like you can do right now with Android apps, for those who wants to develop or test applications in developments. With the Daydream interface demo, we can already see a few teasers of what is to come on the platform. Need For Speed, Eve Gunjack NEXT, and Layers of Fear are just a few high quality games we can expect as well as apps like Netflix, Hulu, and Youtube. With both a better control over the hardware and software, Daydream still remains open, but the users will benefit from a better and standardized experience. Unlike Daydream, the Oculus Home for Gear VR is a closed platform where content must first be authorized, and for the users who wants to leave Samsung will also loose every game they purchased on it, while Daydream users will keep their content from a manufacturer to the other.
With a new certification for phones also comes a new Wiieske controller, replacing the magnetic trigger Cardboard uses. Looking into the API, gives us a good view of what the controller can do. With its 3 axis gyroscope and magnetometer, the device can track where it`s pointing in a 360 degree space. The controller also has an accelerometer that could track other movements such as a left or right drag, a golf swing, a sword movement, although such movement tracking are not always extremely precise. We will have to wait and see for ourselves, but we expect at least something as responsive as a Wii remote. Keep in mind that such movements must usually be analyzed and recreated by developers in their games or apps code, so sometimes the tracking is more of an application problem than a device problem. By experience, it’s not enough to track the remote precisely in 3D space, but sensors might have evolved enough to do it. Only time will tell. You can currently emulate the remote with an Android phone. I’ve installed the paint app demo they offer to try it out. It worked quite well, but the app only uses the gyroscope to position the pointer so moving the remote forward or backward does not create depth in the drawings. I was still surprised how well it keeps track of the pointer and how responsive it was. I was able to paint that “beautiful” drawing.
Note that Google requires phone manufacturer to include that new remote with Daydream ready phones and will be required for the phone to switch into the VR Mode.
VR Mode is a mode introduce in the upcoming Android N (real name to be revealed, but you can submit yours at https://www.android.com/versions/name-n/. I hope Nerds, the candy, wins!!). The VR mode enables the phone to interact in an entirely new way with its sensor and other components. The way the image is refreshed, the resources attributed to the OS and the memory usage will also change when switching in VR to be able to reach latency between movement and image to under 20 milliseconds. This is similar to what Samsung is offering within the Gear VR. While in VR Mode, communications is still possible and should be seamless, within VR. It will be possible to answer calls, but also send text messages within VR. The focus is to let the users in VR as long as they want even when outside interaction is required. A major improvement over Cardboard that required the users to exit the VR every time they wanted to switch from one app to another.
You can expect a Nexus VR headset to release with the Daydream, but also a bunch of other ones. Google offers his own blueprints as a reference for anyone that wants to create a headset. Since the phone will already have all the components, the headsets will be like the current Cardboard, so they should come into a variety of models and prices making them accessible to everyone. Many manufacturers are already working on their own headsets, personalized for the phones they will sell. This will also allow them to offer full VR bundles at launch, including the phone, the mandatory remote and the headset. I currently run my Nexus 6P development kit in my old Riem II, which is a Cardboard clone.
With all those details, and more to come, Oculus Gear VR is up for a serious competition. Having support from their mother company, Facebook, they will definitely try to keep their edge on the market. Maybe we will see Oculus Touch support, cross platform market (with the Rift) and aggressive offers for exclusive content. I’m really excited to see all this materialize this Fall when Daydream launches with a few compatible phones. Meanwhile, I’ll continue to fiddle with the SDK to find out what more can be done with the many APIs. Google VR is also on GitHub and you can participate in the development of the SDK itself at https://github.com/googlevr/