As compelling as Samsung's Gear VR is, it supports only a few premium Samsung phones. Google apparently wants to suck a lot more people into the virtual reality world, as the company is reportedly developing a new headset made of plastic (not cardboard) that will support a wide range of Android phones.
According to the Financial Times, Google wants to build on the success of its low-tech Google Cardboard device, which has surpassed 5 million units shipped. As with the Gear VR, the phone's display will be leveraged to deliver 360-degree visual experiences, but the new headset will offer better sensors and lenses. These upgrades should allow for improved head tracking, less latency and less chance of nausea.
Google also reportedly plans to build virtual reality software directly into the next version of its Android operating system, Android N, which will likely debut at Google I/O. The conference will take place May 18-20 in Mountain View, California.
The Financial Times speculates that Google's new VR headset will debut in the fall under the Nexus brand, allowing developers some time to play with the new software and build more high-quality games and apps.
The Oculus-powered Gear VR has already amassed a substantial library of games, apps and experience, and Samsung is reportedly debuting a 360-degree camera at Mobile World Congress on Feb. 21 to let users shoot VR video. But at least for now, Samsung and Oculus are tending a walled garden.
The overall virtual reality and augmented reality headset market is still nascent, but CCS Insight predicts that 24 million devices will be sold in 2018, up from 2.5 million in 2015.
In a January interview with Tom's Guide, Oculus co-founder Palmer Luckey told us that "building something universal for every phone is pretty much impossible right now, but it might become more feasible in the future." It looks like Google is trying make that future come sooner.