Google Cardboard VR, Possibly The Ultimate Geek Stocking Stuffer, Gets An App Update And SDK

What at first seemed like a “You’ve got to be kidding me” contraption from Google is actually turning out to be quite a surprise breakout for the search giant. Google announced this week that over 500,000 Cardboard virtual reality headset kits have ended up in the hands of consumers since it was first released earlier this year. 

It shouldn’t be too hard to figure out why Google Cardboard has been a success; the low-cost materials used in its construction allow the device to be sold for $20. And if you’re inventive enough, you can build your own from scratch using plans from Google.

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On the other end of the spectrum, a fully functional virtual reality headset from Samsung will cost you $199. The Gear VR might take some reshuffling of your household budget to justify the purchase, while simply passing over a few grande Frappuccinos from Starbucks per week will land you a Google Cardboard kit. 

Now that Cardboard is in the hands of over half a million people, Google is looking to make the VR experience even better. First of all, Google has announced the availability of new Cardboard-compatible apps in the Google Play Store. Some of the new apps include a PaulMcCartney concert, the ProtonPulse 3D game, and the VolvoReality test drive app that lets you get behind the wheel of the upcoming 2015 Volvo XC90. These apps along with dozens more can be found via the officialCardboard app, which is available in the Google Play Store.

In order to ensure that the Google Play Store is loaded with fresh VR apps, Google also announce the availability of Cardboard SDKs for both the Android platform and for Unity. By offering such broad support, the new SDKs should allow for rich VR content to be pushed not only to Cardboard devices, but also to the much more expensive Gear VR when paired when paired with Android devices.

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When Google open sourced its Cardboard specifications earlier this year, a number of companies — including DODOcase and Unofficial Cardboard — took up the cause and offered their own viewers. In the case of Unofficial Cardboard, you can get a viewer for as little as $14.95. Google is taking things a step further by including additional specs that will be beneficial to users that die- or laser-cut their own Cardboard viewers. And starting next year, there will be a viewer calibration tool made available to specifically tailor the Cardboard experience for each user.

“You’ll be able to define your viewer’s base and focal length,” said Andrew Nartker, Google Cardboard Product Manager. Once configured, “every Cardboard app [adjusts] accordingly,” says Nartker.

As for the future of VR at Google, things are definitely looking bright. “The growth of mobile, and the acceleration of open platforms like Android make it an especially exciting time for VR,” Nartker added. “There are more devices, and more enthusiastic developers than ever before, and we can’t wait to see what’s next!”

And just in case you were wondering, yes, Google is hiring!