Google Aims to Equip Tens of Millions of Phones With Virtual Reality Software

Is mobile VR catching on?

Google is hoping to sell 'tens of millions' of its Daydream virtual reality headset this year. - Credit by Google
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BARCELONA, Spain—Google has ambitions plans to broaden its virtual reality operations this year, as the company pushes deeper into both hardware and headsets.

It’s only been a few months since Google began selling its View VR headset, but the company is hoping that 2017 is the year the emerging technology becomes more mainstream. In fact, the company is hoping to equip tens of millions of smartphones this year with VR software, according to Amit Singh, vp of business and operations of Google’s VR unit.

Singh, speaking in Barcelona at Mobile World Congress, said the company already has had some success with its most basic form of a VR hardware, the Google Cardboard. According to Singh, Google has already shipped 10 million of the inexpensive headsets. On the software side, the Cardboard app has been downloaded 160 million times.

“For a lot of people, the first VR interaction might be that bite-sized chunk to get them excited about something,” Singh said.

However, even while buzz and business continues to build (DigiCapital reports that $2 billion was invested in VR and augmented reality last year), the question remains, how many people are actually interested? According to a survey of 3,200 U.S. adults conducted by IBB Consulting, 71 percent said they weren’t interested in VR.

However, that doesn’t mean nobody is buying it. IBB found that of those who are interested, 30 percent already have their own VR equipment. And while 44 percent said they got it for free or as part of a bundle, another 30 percent paid up to $99—about the same price as View or Samsung’s Gear VR. Another 20 percent said they spent between $100 and $500.

Content will be key to driving interest, said Jefferson Wang, a senior partner at IBB.

Not surprisingly, gaming is still the most popular type of content, with 37 percent responding they are most interested in the genre. However, travel was also a key interest for 20 percent of those surveyed, while another 17 percent said they’re interested in movies, TV and news.

“We think that brands have a great opportunity to use VR to sell or advertiser their products to consumers,” said Arthur van Hoff, chief technology officer and founder of Jaunt, a VR app maker.

There are now more than 100 titles—including apps, movies, games and news—on Daydream, Google’s own VR platform that supports View. Singh said there are now more than 100 apps, with active users spending 40 minutes a week in VR. (Google says YouTube is its most popular VR app.)

“People want that lean-back experience, they want immersive content,” he said.

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@martyswant Marty Swant is a former technology staff writer for Adweek.