Google Cardboard

Trying Google Cardboard For the First Time

September 2015

Today I tried Google Cardboard for the first time. My family sent me a viewer for my birthday, along with a couple books on VR which I’m looking forward to getting into. 

After putting together the Cardboard Viewer, I downloaded a few free apps and tried them out. Here are my observations:

  • Cardboard was hard to use at times because my iPhone 6plus was too big for the case. When closed, the case put pressure on the volume & power buttons on the side of the phone, so alerts kept popping up during my sessions. This was difficult, because once the phone is strapped into the Cardboard, you can’t easily access the screen with your fingers, so I had to keep taking it apart and putting it back together. Eventually I just kept it open and held the phone up to the lenses with my fingers. 
  • Most of the apps I downloaded and used (they were all free) were more lo-fi than I expected. Not sure if this is due to technical constraints, or simply due to the fact that there aren't yet many compelling mobile VR experiences on the market yet. I’ll need to see what else is out there - perhaps paid apps are better.
  • Audio is really important to help create the feeling of “presence” which makes virtual reality really special. I found once I put on headphones I was much more immersed. 
  • I tried “Vice News VR” on the VRSE app, and it transported me to the Millions March in Union Square, NYC, where 60,000 protestors were marching against racial profiling by police. Despite the sometimes blurry-graphics, it was quite a compelling experience. I can definitely see VR as a powerful medium for watching the news. I was able to look around and see the expressions on the protestors faces, and the rich audio really made me feel like I was there with everyone. 
  • Besides the “Vice News VR” walkthrough, the best experience I had was a rollercoaster app. Again, the audio played a major role in delivering a sense of presence.
  • Using the VR apps with the cardboard viewer wasn’t the smoothest physical experience. I suspect this is due to the combination of a low frame rate, combined with the latency experienced when moving your head around. I felt some strain in my eyes, similar to when you take a vision exam and look through lenses with prescriptions that are too strong for you. But no nausea, which is great. 
  • When using the viewer, I found it difficult to understand how I could interact with the system I was viewing. It wasn’t clear which actions I could take as inputs. I tried to nod my head, as a way to select items from a menu, but that didn’t work. There’s a magnet on the side of the viewer, which I assume can act as an input for certain phones - but it didn’t work with the iPhone. 
  • In all of the relatively simplistic apps I tried, forward/backward movement had no effect on my experience. Looking left/right/up/down did. In this sense, all apps were passive viewing experiences, with limited need for inputs. I’m planning to see which VR games are available (if any) on my iPhone, as this is likely the primary use case where more sophisticated inputs are needed. 
  • I was surprised after downloading a number of free VR apps, that even after downloading the app, I would have to further download more content to view certain experiences. I was asked “Do you want to download this 465.6 MB file?"

    Once I clicked to download, it still look 4 minutes to download, with a relatively strong wifi connection. This underscores the fact that a good VR experience is CPU & GPU intensive - one of the many challenges at present to making VR consumer friendly. But It’s just a matter of time until that improves, as devices become more powerful, and the technology becomes more efficient. 

Overall, I enjoyed using Google Cardboard, considering that it’s a very cheap way to experience virtual reality. I’m excited to continue digging into VR and understanding more about the technology, UX and the opportunity that exists in this market.