Google tackles simple 360 content embeds with VR View, introduces Cardboard SDK for iOS

Virtual reality is great for gaming and movies, but when it comes to real-world use cases there’s still quite a bit of room for VR to prove itself.

Google is hoping to kickstart this process by making 360 VR content a bit more simple to implement and, in the process, way more spontaneous for users to discover and view.

Today, the company announced a new initiative, VR View, a tool which allows developers to easily embed 360 photo and video content into sites and native apps to be viewed on Cardboard viewers or through a single lens “Magic Window” viewer. To make this even more accessible to developers, today Google is also adding iOS support to the Cardboard SDK.

“VR is great for entertainment purposes,” Google Product Manager Nathan Martz told me in an interview. “But for VR to be as transformative as we all hope it will be, it has to be useful as well.”

A major hurdle for the utility of VR in that regard is the level of premeditation that has to take place on the user’s part before they engage with content. Generally, not only is someone going out of their way to have a VR headset on-hand but they also are visiting a dedicated VR app. Overall, there’s just not enough room for discovery in the process.

Shift your view to the developer side and you can see how many companies would love to get involved with VR, but just don’t have the resources to focus towards building their own native experiences.

This particular problem led Google Product Manager Nathan Martz to wonder“What if we could make it really easy for [businesses] to add VR experiences into their sites and apps?”

“A lot of these businesses, they’re very focused on their core businesses and don’t have VR R&D teams ready to go and the thought of building a VR app from the ground-up is a giant investment,” Martz said. “A lot of what the VR View project is about is in trying to close the gap for those companies.”

By producing simpler open source tools, Google is making it as simple for developers as adding a few lines of code to put VR content directly into their site. This could work great for real estate companies looking to show off properties, fashion houses giving you an eye at the latest looks off the runway or travel sites attempting to show you how beautiful a location really is.

The secondary, but perhaps even more impactful, news here is that Google is finally bringing its Cardboard SDK to iOS.

“We really feel like the core vision of Cardboard is ‘VR for everyone,'” Martz told me. “And it turns out that a lot of phones in a lot of pockets are iOS phones.”

Martz detailed in a blog post that the SDK would have all of the functionality of the Android Cardboard SDK.

“Provided in idiomatic Objective C, and packaged as a single, easy-to-use CocoaPod, this new SDK includes all of the features already available in the Cardboard SDK for Android.

Much of this decision Martz detailed had to do with serving the needs of native app developers.

“We’ve had iOS support in Unity, we’ve made sure that our Cardboard holders work well with iPhones, so really this is a very natural progression for us,” Martz said. “If you were a Unity developer you could target iOS and Android, but if you were a native app developer it was more difficult, and so we’re now closing that gap.”

There are currently over 5 million Cardboard viewers out in the wild, so it’s by far the most popular virtual reality platform out there and is ultimately a great way to dip your toes into discovering VR immersion. With these moves, Google is making it way simpler for developers to build VR viewing functionality into their sites and native apps and is, in turn, going to give Cardboard owners another reason to keep a viewer on hand just in case.