Google is focused on a moving target in ways no other company seems prepared for right now.
VR and AR got prime-time Keynote energy at Google I/O, as well as a separate keynote the next day with heaps of extra details.
And as cool as it is to see a new UI coming to Daydream or the "VPS" system in Tango being used in Lowe's stores later this year, the big news from I/O was neither of these things. It's the reaction from VR developers already embedded in the ecosystem that should be paid attention to right now, because their excitement is very good news for the future of these platforms.
Nobody likes to admit it, but the largest group of active VR users is by far the most boring. Mobile-based VR outsells the Oculus and HTC by orders of magnitude, because they're cheap or free and only require your phone to work. The barrier to entry is as low as it gets, but the experiences available in this format are incredibly limited. It is occasionally difficult to call frantically dodging weapons fire while hunting targets with a bow in an HTC Vive the same thing as sitting on your couch turning a small plastic wand to steer a car. Both experiences are flawed, and the reality is most people are going to quickly move to the middle once it exists.
So how do you get the people tirelessly working for every set of eyeballs they can find on Desktop VR platforms to pay attention to the things you're announcing? Microsoft thought the answer was to fold VR and AR into a single thing, the so-called Mixed Reality container that is supposed to be the branding for all of these experiences. That hasn't gone over well, and in fact has added confusion to the conversation right now. Google's approach was a little more direct, showing off a new fully standalone Daydream experience while addressing all of the biggest criticisms surrounding the existing Daydream experience.
Daydream is becoming more functional, more social, and available on more phones.
Unpacking everything Google is going in this space is not a quick or casual thing. Tango is finally in a form that people might actually want to use. Daydream is going to be much more than just a Gear VR competitor, and you're going to be able to watch YouTube with other Daydream users. It'll be easy to cast what you see to the nearby TV, and not in the same lame screen mirroring way you can already do right now. Daydream is becoming more functional, more social, and available on more phones. The big thing that comes next will let you move around just like you can on those Desktop VR headsets. Even better, you won't need a PC or any cables to do any of this. Each of these things are important. Together, they're a road map to a very exciting experience next year.
It's also important to remember what we saw at I/O is just the beginning. Google will change and improve things between now and the late Fall launch window, and a big part of those changes will likely be the amazing company it just acquired. Owlchemy Labs got a lot of attention recently for the incredible job done on Rick and Morty: Virtual Rick-ality, but long before we were rescuing Rick from the thing that totally wasn't his fault this company was doing amazing things. This team has done incredible work with body detection and that other kind of Mixed Reality, both of which will no doubt be used to help power this new wave of updates to Daydream and Tango.
Google's buildup to this event and the detailed explanations, a full day of sessions and open dev time to help explain how all of this will work, made a lot of developers very happy. Right now, that's exactly what Google needs for Daydream to succeed. It's not enough for the phone-based VR experience we currently know as Daydream to have feature parity, or even a slight feature advantage, over the Gear VR. The best experiences need to come to Daydream, and while Google has already accomplished some of that over the last year it's this big leap forward that will help really push things forward.