Innovation

Google Cardboard: The smart person's guide

This comprehensive guide covers the history of Google Cardboard, its uses in business, and where it fits in the overall virtual reality market.

Image: TechRepublic

Google Cardboard is Google's 2-year-old foray into virtual reality. True to the name, it's a cardboard headset that uses a smartphone as a display to show mostly 360 content. There are no sensors, but what it lacks in sophistication, it makes up for in that it's easily accessible in terms of cost and availability. Cardboard has been popping up in a variety of industries. To help business leaders and innovators better understand Cardboard and its capabilities, we've put together the most important details and resources in this smart person's guide.

Executive summary

  • What is it? Google Cardboard is Google's cheap, lightweight virtual reality device.
  • Why does it matter? At first, it seemed like a joke, but now Cardboard is most likely the average person's first exposure to virtual reality, and myriad industries are finding uses for it.
  • Who does this affect? In the business world, it affects anyone who is considering some use for 360 content, whether to show off a product or make a timely, techy marketing play.
  • When is this happening? Now. As of January, Google said that there are more than 5 million Google Cardboard viewers out in the wild.
  • How do I get it? You can order them online from different makers.

SEE: How Google Cardboard became the flag bearer for VR (TechRepublic)

What is Google Cardboard?

In 2014, Google introduced Cardboard at its I/O conference. It's a cheap, cardboard headset that uses a smartphone as the display to show off 360 content. It contains no sensors, so it relies on the sensors in your phone to adjust the image to where you're looking.

Some will argue that it's not technically virtual reality, but rather just 360 video or photos. However, as it's possible to get Cardboard for a low cost, or even for free, this is how a large swath of people will come to try VR for the first time.

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Why does Google Cardboard matter?

Google Cardboard matters because, as mentioned, it's the most accessible and available headset out there. And, for companies looking to start experimenting lightly with VR, that means a lower barrier to entry for not only potential customers or clients, but themselves. Already, it's not uncommon to see companies handing out branded Cardboard units at trade shows, for example. And, when they do, most people can actually use it because all they need is a smartphone and a relevant app—and that includes 360 videos on YouTube.

Cardboard has potential as a marketing device, but also as a way to quickly show something whether it's a product, location, or demo.

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Who does this affect?

If your company is thinking of dipping a toe into 360 content, then Google Cardboard is worth considering. Applications can include tours, product demos, 3D visualisations, marketing experiences, and more. Your marketing department might be the first to investigate Cardboard, or, it could be elsewhere in the company like HR or product. If someone can think of a way to use it, there's a higher chance they'll be able to make that idea a reality if they're opting for Cardboard. So far, we've seen use from the New York Times using Cardboard to promote its VR app, Savannah College of Art and Design used them to give prospective students a virtual tour of its campuses, even Star Wars partnered with Verizon to promote the Force Awakens movie and Star Wars app.

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When is this happening?

Google Cardboard has been available since 2014 when it was introduced at I/O. The next year Google released a new version that was easier to put together, and there are rumors that this year will see yet another iteration, this time using more durable materials. But in short, Cardboard is out in the world right now.

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How do I get it?

You can order official Cardboard units from the makers listed on the Google Cardboard website. You can also keep an eye out for Cardboard being used as a freebie at places like trade shows. You can even make your own.

About Erin Carson

Erin Carson is a Staff Reporter for CNET and a former Multimedia Editor for TechRepublic.

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