In the next twelve months, Daydream - Google's new Android powered VR platform - will make or break mainstream virtual reality and start the real virtual reality race.
We'll have headsets and phones from all the usual players, that means lots of gadget launches, lots of momentum from this autumn onwards. We'll get apps, movies, games, experiences in the "Google Play for VR" and Daydream Home.
Any developer, studio or filmmaker creating for Cardboard or Gear VR will switch or add Daydream into their plans. Plus Google already has big partners for its baby platform including HBO, Lionsgate, Ubisoft, EA, the list goes on.
Why are we so sure of Daydream's dominance? If we follow the 90:9:1 rule, that comes up time and time again in PCs, smartphone OSs and web browsers, for virtual reality the balance could look something like this in the near future: it's already widely predicted that mobile VR headsets and viewers will account for 90%, we'd bet that PlayStation VR will take the 9% once that goes on sale as an accessory for the 35 million PS4s out there, leaving the high end Oculus Rift and HTC Vive the early adopter/PC gamer 1%. (OK, OK we're being a bit stingy on Oculus and HTC but we haven't seen sales figures yet).
If that is even close to being true, that means that for the first few years, the VR that people try out and consume and build into their entertainment habits will be on mobile. And from what we saw at I/O yesterday, as far as I'm concerned, that now means on Daydream.
Oculus is boasting that 1 million people used a Samsung Gear VR last month, and Samsung has sold a lot of flagship Galaxy phones in the past couple of years. But Samsung has been giving away its headsets left, right and centre so it's clearly not selling enough to Galaxy owners. And it is also on the list of manufacturers building Daydream ready smartphones, with a high performance, low (under 20ms) latency VR Mode, to launch this autumn.
We hope and pray Samsung doesn't do something stupid to shift Gear VRs like make one flagship Daydream ready and one compatible with its own - very good - VR headset. LG, HTC, Huawei, Xiaomi, ZTE, Alcatel, basically every company that makes phones apart from Apple is building compatible smartphones ready for when Android N and Daydream roll out.
Incidentally, Daydream is also good news for smartphone manufacturers. Just 18 months ago, we would have said you don't need a 4K display on a smartphone, processing speeds are plateauing and that's fine. Not so much anymore. Gorgeous, fast, immersive mobile VR is a reason to upgrade your phone, more than minor camera tweaks and gimmicks.
This means not only will Daydream be an introduction to VR for millions more people than those who have bought or used Cardboard, Gear VR, Oculus so far. And not only that its success could seriously boost sales of new, premium smartphones which isn't so exciting innovation wise but it is where the money lies. But mainly that Daydream will either usher in a paradigm shift in how we experience and interact with the digital world, or else send VR back into the wilderness once again.
Another big week for VR
- Cannes: The VR films and experiencesFrom graphic novel adaptations and Danish arthouse to a Walking Dead FPS
- Google's Daydream Android VR platform is Cardboard 2.0Google's making its own Daydream headset too
- Starbreeze's spec heavy StarVR headset is now shipping to IMAX VR centresIFA 2016: This Oculus rival is for real and heading to StarCades around the world
You could point to Android Wear as an example of Google taking exactly this open approach in wearable tech and failing to sell enough smartwatches. But VR headsets don't have the brand and design and style problems which Google is now figuring out with the help of Tag, Michael Kors and more. Plus no one is really asking the question - what are VR headsets for?
Daydream will have its own challenges. Google hasn't said too much about being social in VR yet, something that Oculus, Samsung and Sony have done a lot of work on. There's also more practical problems like battery life, glasses wearers and cracked smartphone screens to think of.
When we say that this platform will make or break VR, we're talking about virtual reality's place in our cultural consciousness. For Oculus Rift and HTC Vive gamers, VR is already here. For kids going on Cardboard Expeditions in classrooms, it's already here. To be honest, if you're reading this, it's already here. With Daydream, Google is going after everyone else.