Each year at I/O, Google gives all of the developers in the audience a gift. Some years it’s a tablet. Some years it’s a laptop.
This year? It was a piece of cardboard. Yeah, yeah, they gave attendees some other stuff, too — but that cardboard!
Once you tear the seal on Google’s lil’ slab of cardboard, it becomes clear that this is no mere corrugated fiberboard. This is something more!
If you can bust out the skills you picked up at the University of Ikea and work your way through the the not-so-intuitive folding process, you end up with something wonderful. Paired with your Android phone, that origami’d cardboard transforms into a cheap, on-the-fly virtual reality headset.
Google calls the project “Cardboard”; I’ve taken to calling it the Mockulus Thrift.
I’ve been playing with it since the Keynote ended and.. it’s actually kind of freaking wonderful.
Is it an Oculus Rift killer? Hah — of course not. It’s made of cardboard.
But it’s still awesome.
Once you finish contorting Cardboard into shape, a rubber band and a velcro’d flap hold your Android phone in place.
Like the actual Oculus Rift, two plastic lenses built into the face of Cardboard help to distort your phone’s screen in a way that helps wrap the image around your eye.
That would have been enough, really. But Google took it one step further.
Midway through bending Cardboard into shape, you’ll notice a stray, circular magnet stuck to one of the flaps. It’s the very last piece of the construction process; the last thing you put in in place. Once everything is all folded up, you plop the magnet into a small groove on Cardboard’s exterior.
If you’re like me, you assume it’s just to hold everything in place or something.
Then you launch the Cardboard app. Right off the bat, a tutorial begins
“Turn your head to look around the app”, it reads.
Okay, easy enough.
“To select an item, slide the magnet down then let go.”
Turns out, these Google guys are pretty freaking clever.
This funny little cardboard faux-Rift has something even the original Rift itself does not: a built-in button.
The magnet slides within its groove, then automatically slips back into a place because of another magnet on opposite side. Your phone is able to sense the magnet’s movement, allowing it to act as a ridiculously clever little button. Yeesh.
The cardboard app comes with 7 “experiences”, and each is pretty darned neat in its own right:
- Youtube lets you watch a selection of Youtube videos on a simulated theater screen. Probably my favorite of all the apps
- Street Vue lets you wander around in a VR version of, you guessed it, street view
- “Exhibit” lets you look at a few 3D recreations of objects. Not the most exciting of the lot.
- Earth Flyover lets you zoom around a city in Google Earth. Push the “button” to start flying forward, push it again to stop.
- Photo Sphere Viewer lets you look around in pictures you’ve taken using Android’s built-in 360º panoramic feature
- Windy Day is a cute, cartoony environment where you can watch animals sneak around as leaves fall
- Tour Guide has you explore the Palace of Versailles
Want one? Unless you’re at I/O, you might be out of luck. Fortunately, I managed to end up with an extra one. Still sealed and everything! Like everyone at I/O, you’ll have to bring your own Android phone. If you want it, drop a comment down below — I’ll pick someone at random this weekend.