Daydream View VR
Daydream View VR

Why is Google killing Daydream View VR headset?

  • Launched in 2016, Daydream View was Google's first major foray into VR
  • Experts are of the opinion that the end of Daydream View doesn't mean Google is giving up on it's VR ambitions

Google is reportedly shuttering its smartphone-driven VR (virtual reality) headset the Daydream View. At the Pixel event, a Google spokesperson reportedly told Engadget that the new Pixel smartphones won't support the VR headset and they won't be selling it anymore as the product didn't receive the kind of response they were expecting. Daydream app and store services will remain available and unaffected.

Launched in 2016, Daydream View was Google's first major foray into VR. Though sold as a standalone product, Daydream View wasn't actually one. Like most VR headsets of its generation, it was tied to a smartphone for content. In this case, it worked with the Pixel phones and a handful of premium Android smartphones.

The fact that users had to place the smartphone on the headset felt restrictive as users couldn't do anything else on it while it was being used to access VR content. Samsung has also decided to drop support for the Gear VR headsets with its latest smartphones.

The VR industry is undergoing a shift. The first gen VR headsets that worked with a smartphone or PC are making way for a new generation of standalone headsets such as Facebook's Oculus Go that work on their own. Google has also been working on a standalone version of Daydream View with in-built hardware and preloaded software.

"The ecosystem and technology is not mature enough to support Smart phone based VR in a meaningful way. Standalone headsets are necessary stepping stone as well as the piece of spectrum of end point computing devices to foster the growth and adoption of VR," says Tuong Nguyen, senior principal analyst at Gartner.

According to IHS Markit, standalone headsets will account for 67% of the installed base of consumer VR headsets globally by year 2023.

A June 2019 report by IDC shows, standalone VR headsets will capture 38.2% of the market in 2019, up from 26.6%, while tethered VR headsets will account for 46.1% of the market, up from 44.1% in 2018.

Piers Harding-Rolls, Director, Head of Games Research & Lead AR/VR Analyst at IHS Markit also feels that standalone VR headsets will eventually become the main form factor for consumption of VR content. "There still needs to be more and better content. Lack of compelling content remains a key reason why consumer adoption of VR has been slow," he added.

Harding-Rolls has a point. Lack of good quality content has been a major limitation on Daydream VR and other similar platforms.

Experts are of the opinion that the end of Daydream View doesn't mean Google is giving up on it's VR ambitions.

"I don’t know what Google's specific hardware aspirations are, but I this is not the end of the company’s work with virtual reality," adds Nguyen.

The fact that augmented reality (AR) on smartphones has fared much better in recent years than VR has turned the balance more in favour of the former as far as smartphones are concerned.

"I think the move makes sense. The phone is turning out to be a much better home for AR than VR. Phone-based VR never really gotten off the ground," says Mike Feibus, principal analyst at FeibusTech.

Platforms like ARKit and ARCore have led to a bigger adoption of AR on smartphones. Not only are there more AR apps and games on Play Store and Apple App Store, but they also feel less gimmicky. Some AR games like Pokemon Go have received more acclaim and adulation than any of the VR games or apps on Daydream View or Gear Wear. Many of the popular apps like Snapchat, Google Translate and Ikea Place are taking advantage of AR to offer newer and more immersive experiences to their users.

Harding-Rolls also points out, Google’s main focus in immersive computing is now in the AR space, as this remains heavily focused on mobile apps and smartphone consumption of these apps.

VR market has been mostly scattered and Daydream VR was never a key driver in the segment. It's demise will hardly be missed. Samsung Gear VR was the most popular VR headset and reportedly sold 5 million units. However, over the years interest in it also dwindled.

Google's Daydream VR never really took off as many smartphones didn't meet the parameters required to support it, restricting its availability to premium smartphones.

Indrajit Ghosh, director, India South Asia at IHS Markit points out, Daydream VR underperformed from launch and did not get the wider industry support that was expected. The decision will have a minimal impact on the consumer VR market, where the agenda is being set by Oculus/Facebook in the standalone space and Sony in the console segment.

Clearly, standalone VR is the way forward. However, availability of rich and more immersive content is going to be the key as it will get more users on board making VR more mainstream and will also allow companies like Google to monetise them better.

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