Google continues to demonstrate its commitment to take virtual reality from the idea lab to the everyday world. On June 27, Google announced an expansion of its Expeditions program through which people can use the Google Cardboard viewer to take VR field trips to places such as Machu Picchu. During the 2016 Cannes Lions advertising festival, Google showcased its VR vision to brands. Most significantly, as was widely reported, at Google’s I/O 2016 event, Google launched its Daydream VR ecosystem, focused on mobile. Brands need to pay close attention to what Google is doing. By using mobile devices to push Daydream, Google is expanding VR well beyond the gaming community.
VR at I/O 2016
Google’s unveiling of Daydream at I/O event created huge buzz, but did you also notice that Google also made the event itself available as 360-degree video livestream? Here was a small step towards mainstream consumption of VR content for everyday purpose — and a sign that Google is practicing what it preaches. With the rollout of VR headsets, 360-degree cameras, and digital assistants, VR media is going to be ubiquitous in the near future. None of those elements alone creates VR, but Google understands that making the building blocks available for widespread use, especially on mobile, is an important step.
The focus on mobile is important. Instead of creating a completely new standalone platform like Facebook or HTC, Google is staging its Daydream VR platform on mobile. For example, as noted at I/O, Google has designed specs to make Android-powered smartphones ready for Daydream VR. By using mobile devices to push Daydream, Google is opening VR outside the gaming community.
By creating standards around its VR platform, Google is pushing its partners to bring VR hardware into mainstream consumption. Google is already spearheading this development with its own product line: Nexus mobile phones. With more partners rallying around VR, we can expect the price of VR hardware (e.g., headsets, mobile phones, and controllers) to go down in future, which also accelerates the adoption of VR by masses. This strategy is similar to the one Google adopted to push its Android platform to masses.
Why Google is pushing VR? One reason is that Google wants to defend its position as major search and advertising platform. The Ad-tech industry is embracing more immersive experiences, and Google’s rivals are already making inroads into VR. By accelerating its Daydream VR into masses, Google will be better positioned to take advantage of the VR era.
Android is key to Google’s adoption of VR. Android keeps Google relevant in mobile world. When people use Google products in mobile, Google can serve better advertisements to its users and generate revenue. When VR goes mainstream with Google’s Android-based Daydream platform as the most used platform (as Google hopes it will be), Google products will be better positioned to understand the consumer. With better user data, Google can serve better search results and advertisement to its users. The bottom line is that Google gets revenue from advertisement — and being closer to user is one trick that Google has mastered to sustain its advertising revenue.
Google’s Recent Moves
Since I/O, Google has continued to demonstrate how seriously it takes VR, an example being the expansion of the Expeditions program. As reported in TechCrunch, more than a million students in 11 countries have used the Google Cardboard viewer to go on virtual trips via Expedition. Google is now making Expeditions available to everyone, which is a sign that Google intends to make VR democratic. All you need is Google Cardboard devices and smartphones or tablets in 2D full-screen mode. Making VR democratic and accessible was the whole point of launching Cardboard in the first place.
Meanwhile, Google continues to demonstrate Daydream’s capabilities in advance of its official rollout this fall. For instance, Google recently shared a demo that shows how you can create animations in VR by grabbing objects and moving them around, thus lessening the need for special skills to create VR.
The strategy is powerful: by making more consumers comfortable with VR through its own products, Google will be the preferred platform when consumers nudge more brands to use VR.
VR is still at its nascent stage with no clear winner. Similar to how photos took long time to become mainstream search content for users, VR content will take time to mature as an acceptable form of content creation and sharing. Mainstream VR will replace both photos and videos as a major content consumption and search optimization we know will be driven solely by VR content and VR experiences. At that stage, brands with better VR content will take advantage of the new shift in content consumption to reach its users effectively.
What Brands Should Do
Brands can do a number of things in light of Google’s adoption of VR. For starters, treat Google as an essential publisher of your content and data. Form a close relationship with Google if you lack one, and strengthen that relationship if you have one. You should be ready to adapt your content for a VR world, and having a relationship with Google will better prepare you.
Now is also a good time to ask how to incorporate VR into your location marketing strategy. For instance, it might make sense to experiment with using VR to enhance your in-store retail experience. And with Google is rebuilding YouTube for VR, you can expect more video experiences to incorporate VR, too. If your brand relies on video to create consumer experiences, you should be ready to incorporate VR content.
For now, VR is still a gamer platform. But VR is changing. Will you be ready?