Clay Bavor, previously Google’s VP of Gmail and Drive, took over the company’s virtual reality efforts right around the turn of 2016. It has been over four months since then, and as the company now continues thinking beyond its super-cheap Cardboard headset made of actual cardboard, Bavor gave an interview to Popular Science on the topic of the company’s experience with Cardboard and how that’s impacting its future VR endeavors…
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Bavor talks a little about why Google is into VR and how it ties into the company’s overall mission, but the most interesting part of the interview to me is where he gives us an idea of where Google is headed with its coming venture deeper into the technology:
So we want to embrace many of the things we think Cardboard got right: mobility, comfort, approachability, low cost. But then of course, the smartphones that Cardboard makes use of, were meant to be first and foremost smartphones. They weren’t designed with virtual reality in mind, and Cardboard of course is just cardboard. And so I think that if you’re more intentional in designing phones, designing software and go beyond Cardboard you can do something pretty magical that is even higher quality, higher performance and so on. But while maintaining many of the attributes that make Cardboard so powerful and appealing.
He also mentions that one of the main drawbacks of Cardboard is that there’s only one button. Perhaps the next VR headset that Google develops will allow more intimate interactions (other VR offerings from HTC and Oculus offer a controller-based system):
One of the other things that limits Cardboard at this point is, there is one button. Virtual reality is so rich in how you can be immersed in it. But you also want to be able to interact with those elements more richly. So that’s something that I’ve been thinking a lot about.
Another really interesting tidbit to me is that Bavor compares development of the VR UX to the development of the interface of a desktop computer. He says that Google (and assumably other companies) are learning how people feel most comfortable interacting with the tech and building what would be the equivalent of the “X” in the upper-left corner of an OS X window:
What struck me is everything is new and the people working in VR right now are doing the equivalent of [building an operating system]. For example, figuring out that you close a window with an X in the upper left like on the original Mac. We’re doing the equivalent of that right now for virtual reality. What is a button? What is a menu? Do you go between apps or worlds? Is it a game or an experience? How do you make people feel comfortable?
The rest of the interview is really interesting and you should go check it out. Bavor talks in detail about Google’s ambitions in AR, its investment in Magic Leap, the killer apps for non-gaming VR, the challenges that him and his team have faced, and the things he’s learned in the last several months.