Google is looking to take over the Virtual Reality space much in the same way it has dominated the smartphone race with its Android operating system. According to inside reports, Google has a team of engineers working on creating an Android experience that is tailored for virtual reality devices. Google is likely hoping to become the platform and operating system of choice for future virtual reality device.
This doesn’t seem to be a small initiative/pet project either. According to the insider source, there are “tens of engineers” hard at work in bringing this operating system to fruition. With virtual reality advancing quickly and companies investing heavily in hardware development, Google is taking its own strategy on getting a piece of the pie by providing an effective operating system to power the hardware. The question is, which virtual reality headsets will benefit from an Android operating system and will it be able to gain adoption by a large portion of virtual reality hardware makers in the future?
Do we need a VR operating system?
It is challenging to answer this question as there is not a consumer model of virtual reality available to the public. The Oculus Rift has developer kits available, however it is not intended to be a consumer product just yet. Samsung has also released its Samsung Gear headset that is powered by the Galaxy Note 4, however it is titled the “Innovator Edition” as it is also not intended for the mainstream consumer either.
Both of these devices lack a solid user experience and act more as a peripheral to PC/phone applications as opposed to an overall ‘experience.’ Virtual reality is likely to go far beyond the realm of gaming and could become one of the primary ways that we compute on a daily basis. (That is if we can get it to not look so awkward.) As it stands, in the current VR experience you download a compatible application, start it up, and that is when the Oculus Rift begins to function. There is not an effective in-between-applications virtual reality experience. This is where a VR version of Android would come into play, creating a seamless user experience in between apps/games/etc…
Will Android VR gain mainstream adoption by VR hardware makers?
Currently, there are 5 different hardware makers in the virtual reality space: Facebook’s Oculus Rift, Samsung’s Gear VR, Sony’s Project Morpheus, Valve and HTC’s Vive Headset, and Microsoft’s Hololens. Of these 5 hardware makers, really only 2 of them are likely to utilize a virtual reality version of Android.
Sony’s is positioning Project Morpheus as something to be used in tandem with the Playstation eco-system. Playstation already has an operating system that powers its consoles. While some may argue that Sony is using a modified version of Android for its Xperia line of smartphones, Project Morpheus is in a completely different space; of which Sony already has an operating system in place. It’s unlikely that Sony will adopt Android for Project Morpheus.
HTC and Valve’s recently announced Vive VR headset is also an unlikely platform to leverage the Android operating system. Why? Because Valve owns Steam which is one of the most successful PC based software delivery platforms. This is likely one of the driving forces behind a partnership between HTC and Valve, to bring the steam experience to their VR headsets. Having Steam in their back pockets, it’s unlikely that the Hive will need the Android operating system.
The Microsoft Hololens barely fits into the category of Virtual Reality. This device definitely sits in its own category, but does have some virtual reality applications. The Hololens runs on the Windows 10 operating system and would not need the Android operating system. Plus, Microsoft would never use the operating system of one of its biggest competitors.
That leaves us with the Oculus Rift and the Samsung Gear virtual reality headsets. Both of these headsets could be prime candidates for an Android operating system that is tailor-made for virtual reality. The Samsung Gear is already powered by an Android phone, so it is extremely likely that this piece of hardware will leverage a VR version of Android.
The future is a little bit cloudier in terms of the Oculus Rift. While the current developers kit is in dire need of an operating system such as Android, Mark Zuckerburg stated the following when announcing their acquiring of Oculus Rift:
After games, we’re going to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences.
The keyword in that statement is “Platform.” It sounds as if Facebook has plans that go far beyond simply funding the hardware development of the Oculus Rift. However, Oculus has partnered with Samsung in bringing the Oculus Powered Samsung Gear to the market. This could be indicative that a part of the platform that Facebook wants to build will rely on Google’s VR Android Operating System. Time will tell.
This leaves us with the unknown hardware of the future. With virtual reality growing so quickly, it’s inevitable that other companies will join the mix bringing new hardware. These companies are the unknown variable that will likely dictate the success or failure of Google’s virtual reality version of Android.
Regardless, the time and investments that companies are making in the virtual reality space is exciting. It’s clear that analysts across a myriad of companies are seeing virtual reality as a huge market in the future. While today VR is reserved for us geeks, tomorrow could mark the horizon of mainstream adoption; if these companies play their cards right. Hopefully, with Google in the mix, a successful platform will be developed that gains traction that is not a repeat of the Google Glass of yesterday.
What do you think? Will Android dominate the VR space like they have the smartphone market? Sound off in the comments below.