Google Daydream puts mobile VR and Android on the same page


— 2:33 PM on May 18, 2016

The next version of Google's Android will make mobile VR a more standard experience. At its Google I/O event today, the company introduced a mobile VR platform it's calling Daydream. This platform includes some operating-system-level improvements that are meant to minimize motion-to-photon latency in VR experiences, as well as a reference headset and controller design that'll presumably give hardware companies a turn-key solution for making their own VR goggles.

Let's start at the hardware level. Google says it's established standard specifications for VR with phone manufacturers and other hardware companies to create a "Daydream-ready" baseline that'll provide a great mobile VR experience. The company is working with a number of major manufacturers to create Daydream-ready devices, including heavy hitters like Samsung, Huawei, Asus, and Xiaomi. Those phones should start hitting the market later this year.

Google's reference platform includes a headset and remote design that third-party manufacturers can use as a starting point. Google will be making its own versions of this headset and remote, too. The VR headset is, well, a headset, but the remote is a pretty interesting device. While it might look a lot like the Oculus remote, Google's reference controller includes Wiimote-like position-tracking features that allow users to interact with the virtual environment—something Oculus' bundled remote can't do.

On the software front, Android N will give developers a "VR mode" that makes several changes to the way a phone operates while running a VR app. Google tells Ars Technica this VR mode turns on direct-to-display rendering and a form of time-warping to deliver smoother virtual experiences. The company told Ars it was able to reduce motion-to-photon latency from over 100 milliseconds on Android 6.0 to under 20ms with Android N, using a Nexus 6P as a reference platform. Google is also reworking certain core features of Android to play well in VR, like rendering notifications in stereo when they pop into view in a VR app. 

Android N will also include a central hub users will see when they goggle into VR. Sort of like Oculus' Home app and its virtual living room, this hub puts wearers in an idyllic, low-poly-count forest glade where they can open games, apps, and other media, or just turn around and soak in the ambience. Android's Daydream features should arrive alongside Android N sometime this fall.

Updated 5/19/2016 to clarify that Google will be making versions of its reference VR headset and remote on its own.

   
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