Google Daydream View

Just as Karl Lagerfeld took on the idea of “Intimate Technology,” opening his Chanel show with looks featuring Space Age white helmets, Google offered its own softer version of futuristic headsets Tuesday — pushing the tech giant further into the world of virtual reality.

Google’s move amounted to a vote of confidence in virtual reality, and hinted that VR headsets could soon experience the same “but is it stylish?” quandary that has taken over the world of wearables.

The tech firm’s virtual reality headset, dubbed the Daydream View, was introduced with a modest bow to fashion. “It doesn’t quite look like other VR headsets,” said Google vice president of VR Clay Bavor. 

It comes in three colors — slate, snow and crimson — “so you can choose the color that matches your style,” Bavor said, speaking at an event in San Francisco that introduced a suite of new Google hardware products.

The Daydream View is made with soft microfiber commonly used in activewear and is 30 percent lighter than similar devices, according to Google.

In introducing the headset, Bavor emphasized that the devices are made to be comfortable and to fit over eyeglasses. “In designing it, we weren’t inspired by gadgets. We looked at what do people actually wear? And they wear stuff that’s soft,” he said.

Google said they worked with members of the fashion community on the design, but didn’t offer more details. “We worked with clothing designers and makers to get the design just right,” Bavor said.

The Daydream View is designed to work with Google’s new phone, called the Pixel and Pixel XL, which is the first phone that is “Daydream-ready.” (Daydream is the mobile VR platform that Google introduced in May.) The Daydream View headsets are $79 and will be available in the U.S., Canada, United Kingdom, Germany and Australia in November. They mark quite an upgrade from Google’s Cardboard, which was a simple cardboard box that enabled any smartphone to become a VR device.

“Daydream is a critical driver for the mobile VR ecosystem,” said Forrester analyst J.P. Gownder. Forrester estimates that 37.9 million mobile VR units (i.e. smartphone-based) will be in use in the U.S. market by 2020, and that Daydream, along with the Samsung Gear VR, will be a key player in this market.

Still, Gownder sees obstacles to wide adoption. “Google needs to release tools to drive down the cost of developing VR experiences, announce shipment dates for Daydream-enabled phones, and announce hardware add-ons for viewing content.” (So far, Google has only said that the phones are currently available for pre-order.)

According to a recent report conducted by Nielsen, customers are willing to embrace experiential content, but only about one-fifth of study participants said that they felt knowledgeable about virtual technology. To that end, the report recommended that brands take an educational approach toward consumers; it took about two minutes of exposure of content surrounding VR and its capabilities for consumers to feel more familiar with the technology.

Fashion brands and retailers — two groups with lots of practice creating immersive, aspirational experiences — has begun to tentatively test potential uses of virtual reality. Rebecca Minkoff broadcast a Live 360 virtual reality view of her New York Fashion Week show that was streamed on the brand’s web site. Alibaba has focused increasingly on using virtual reality in the shopping experience, and has begun demonstrating a VR store in which shoppers can walk around and converse with a robotic sales associate. Alibaba’s Chinese market is already selling 300,000 VR units each month.

But earlier this year, Google’s Aaron Luber, who leads partnerships and business development for Google’s VR and 360 videos on YouTube, said that although fashion is certainly one of the areas that Google and VR has gravitated to, “the biggest challenge is the content. The tech is moving at a rapid pace, but people are still trying to understand what people want to watch,” Luber said. In the short term, Luber said the most immediate and obvious application in the fashion world would be to help fans experience a fashion show.

In addition to the new phones, Google today also introduced Google Assistant, which is like a “personal Google for everyone.” The tools uses artificial intelligence to perform functions such as dinner reservations and directions, and works with Google Home, an Alexalike device, and with the new Google Pixel phone.

“The launch of Google Home with Google Assistant uplevels Google’s play as a virtual assistant and is a natural extension of Google’s path toward becoming the agent that sits between brands and their customers,” said Forrester analyst Julie Ask. “The ‘holy grail’ of becoming a consumer’s virtual assistant will be hard for Google to obtain, but holds unprecedented business value if Google achieves this goal.”

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