It’s no secret that virtual reality has been growing into a massive corner of the technology market. Only a few short years ago VR devices and VR content were as good as dead to the consumer, but fast forward to now and here we are with two major, high-end VR systems on the market and available for purchase with more on the way, and with multiple entry-level units available to consumers as well. With that in mind, it was only a matter of time before Google started putting more of a heavy focus on VR and VR content as more and more major brands work towards the release of their own products in the space.
While it’s too early to tell if Google will actually have a VR product to launch this year, the suggestion has already been made that they could launch a headset at some point this year that would be powered by a smartphone, similar to Samsung’s Gear VR, and at the very least that Google could show off the headset at Google I/O next month. Google also has the rumored standalone headset that’s reportedly in development already and could see a launch toward the end of the year. While there is no certainty on either device, there is very high likelihood that Google has plans to unveil a VR product at the conference, as the Google I/O schedule has a pretty high focus on virtual reality. In total, Google has seven different talks which are all geared towards VR and VR technology, and one of those is the very undescriptive session called simply “VR At Google” that is being led by the now head of Google’s recently formed VR division, Clay Bavor. The session states that Google will be discussing what they have built in the VR space, which means this could be the talk where Google shows off the VR headset that is meant to compete with the Gear VR. Without explicitly stating it, showing off what they have built suggests that they have hardware to unveil. The talk will also include points that focus on what Google has learned from its research in VR development and the direction in which they’re headed. There’s no way to know what the company has to share in regards to what they have learned from the experience of developing technology in this space, but it can be speculated on where they might be headed.
Looking at the trends, gaming is easily going to be the biggest draw for virtual reality tech, for now at least. While not all the currently available VR devices are aimed mainly at gamers, the biggest units are which includes the HTC Vive, the Oculus Rift, and the PlayStation VR due to launch at the end of this year, and all the currently available VR products have at least some game-related content for users to enjoy. Games, then, could be a huge focus with VR for Google as it could be a way to help them drive revenue in the Play Store. As more developers are brought on board for each platform to kick out VR games content, and with the popularity of gaming on VR driving it forward at a fast pace, Google has an opportunity to ramp up the Play Store sales from VR games. This could, in turn, help them finally surpass Apple as the app store that makes the most revenue. Google has been gaining more download marketshare from the Play Store than Apple’s App Store for some time, but Apple has always remained the top dog when it comes to money made from downloaded apps and games. A report from App Annie on marketshare and revenue from apps between the Google Play Store and Apple’s App Store shows that the Play Store remains at the top for downloads while the platform is also managing to increase the gap. When it comes to revenue, however, last year the App Store made 75 percent more in-app revenue than the Play Store while also managing to widen the gap between the two markets, according to a report by Venture Beat. VR could be Google’s opportunity to close the gap or at least shorten it some, by offering consumers a VR headset with compatible and engaging VR content, both games and apps, that would provide a better experience than what’s already available from Cardboard.
As an example, Minecraft fits this bill. Mojang and Microsoft just launched the virtual reality version of Minecraft for the Gear VR today making it possible for beloved fans to enjoy crafting their world in a virtual space like never before. While this is currently only a Gear VR compatible offering, it could be made available to a Google-manufactured VR headset as well, and with the behemoth following that Minecraft carries it could easily help drive revenue for Google. Another thing to consider is a new app called Altspace VR, which is an app for calling and communicating with friends in virtual reality as well as interacting with them in a VR social setting from playing games to watching videos. Google could end up following in similar footsteps and launching a VR version of Hangouts, or a completely new app which allows people to communicate and engage in other activities in VR, designed to be enjoyed through a Google VR headset. Google also already has some experience in building VR software, with a moe recent offering being Tilt Brush, the VR painting app which is available on the HTC Vive. While it would not necessarily be something on quite this scale, Google certainly has the means to build and launch an app similar to Tilt Brush to be used for a mobile VR experience, or, if they end up launching a standalone unit that also has access to the Play Store for apps, it could be offered there too. The point is, Google has loads of opportunity to solidify a more solid share of app revenue using VR technology and content, even if it takes more than a year to do so. As VR continues to grow and the excitement along with it, more and more users will likely be interested in picking up VR hardware especially if it's made more accessible from a cost standpoint.
In addition to what is likely going to be the biggest session that's centered around VR at the conference, Google also has a VR sessions that is dedicated solely to gaming, called "Live Coding: Make A Virtual Reality Game," which focuses on using the Unity Cardboard SDK to create a virtual reality game that will actually be playable by the time Google reaches the end of the talk. While not completely evident of Google's future efforts in VR development, it does show that they are taking a continued and growing interest in the technology. Google also has an opportunity to branch out in film content that could be enjoyed in virtual reality using short films or any kind of video content that is similar to the already existing Spotlight stories which are filmed with 360-degree cameras. This kind of video is perfect for a VR experience, and could easily be a way for Google gain revenue from Play Store download as well. Google could simply charge a small amount relevant to the length of the content and users could enjoy it in a compatible VR headset, like the one that Google is rumored to be unveiling at Google I/O this year. In fact, there is even a talk focused on VR in the cinema space with Google's "VR & Cinema" session that takes place on the second day. Google's annual developer conference is coming up just next month, and there's some big potential for Google to push forward with VR in a big way. The specifics of how still remains a little bit of a mystery, but there are plenty of things Google could do in the space.