Why Google Is Doubling Down On VR (Hint: It’s Not Oculus)


From my Forbes blog:

More than a year and a half after Google introduced what still looks more like a mockup of a virtual-reality device than a real virtual-reality device, it’s finally getting real on VR. But not for the reason most people seem to think.

Today, Google confirmed that it has created a new virtual-reality group headed by Clay Bavor, a vice president for product management who has headed apps such as Gmail, Docs, and Drive–and Cardboard, the cheapo device that turns a smartphone into a crude but surprisingly effective VR headset.

The assumption by many observers is that Google is playing catch-up to Facebook’s Oculus, which just released its high-end Rift device, and other VR headsets such as the Oculus-powered Samsung Gear VR introduced last fall.

But the search giant is playing a rather different game than Facebook, in particular, and other makers of VR devices. …

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Brands Look Far and Wide for a Niche in Virtual Reality


From my story in The New York Times:

Even in virtual reality, it seems, there will be no escape from advertising.

The Oculus Rift, which is owned by Facebook, won’t be available until early next year, but many of the two billion consumers worldwide who own smartphones can already try out virtual reality on the cheap with Cardboard, a device from Google that folds into a viewer with a slot for a smartphone. As more devices come to market with the aim of making virtual reality more commonplace, advertisers and agencies hope virtual reality will be the next great medium for persuading consumers to buy stuff.

For now, marketers are producing mostly eye candy in their own apps and on YouTube’s #360Video channel. But with virtual reality movies, shows and stories coming soon, the question is what kind of ads, if any, will work on the platform.

Companies including Coca-Cola, Volvo and HBO are struggling to figure that out. So are publishers like Facebook, which introduced 360-degree ads on Thursday, including video ads from AT&T, Nestlé and other brands.The first obstacle is that it is not yet clear what kind of programming besides games will catch on in virtual reality to provide a place for that advertising.

“There’s lots of spectacle, but I can’t name one great story in VR,” said Ben Miller, director of content development at WEVR, a virtual reality entertainment and technology firm in Venice, Calif. And without a clear consensus on what sort of content will succeed in virtual reality, it’s difficult to predict what form the advertising will ultimately take. Success in the new medium will depend on finding the equivalent of the 30-second TV spot or the digital search ad. …

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3-D Imaging Firm Matterport Raises $30 Million For Mobile Push

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

As virtual reality headsets such as Samsung Gear, Google’s Cardboard, and hotly anticipated devices from Magic Leap and Facebook’s Oculus Rift have gotten big press lately, one question is what we’ll actually do on these things besides play even cooler games.

Matterport, which last year started selling a $4,500 3-D scanning camera currently aimed mainly at real estate firms that want to provide a more immersive experience for potential buyers, hopes to enable a lot more applications to be created more easily. Today, the Mountain View-based company announced it has raised a $30 million Series C funding round led by Qualcomm Ventures to build out that vision.

The company plans to use the money in part to develop software to make it possible for almost anyone to capture 3-D content using future tablets and smartphones that incorporate 3-D sensors. In particular, CEO Bill Brown said in an interview, “We want to make it very easy for third-party apps to create and use this type of content.” Today, Matterport began accepting applications to its developer program.

As much buzz as Magic Leap, Oculus, and other VR devices have gotten, compelling content and apps will be key to making them the mass-market product that their makers keep insisting they will be. As Ben Miller, director of content development at WEVR, a VR studio in Venice, Calif., put it recently, there is no killer app for VR yet.

Matterport has found one that, if it isn’t a killer, is at least promising: real estate. …

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