As Silicon Valley gears up for battle over virtual-reality headsets, Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOGL) is slowly producing VR's killer app, and it will work on any platform. It's called Google "Views," and it's capable of transporting you anywhere on earth from the comfort of your home.
Google's Cardboard app already features a component that allows users to “fly where your fancy takes you on Google Earth.” But look at the incredible places that Google’s been sending its “Trekker” cameras to widen the scope of Street View: Brazil’s World Cup stadiums as well as the country’s painted streets, tourist attractions like the Taj Mahal and the waterways of Venice, and spots to geek out like inside looks at the large hadron collider at CERN and the Endeavor space shuttle at NASA.
Art Project gives an inside look at museums and historical places from around the world. While standing in a virtual museum to see the world’s most famous works of art may not offer the same experience as traveling the world to do so, it sure beats staring at them from a computer monitor. From the world’s highest peaks to under its oceans, Google’s Street View cameras have amassed a wealth of incredible imagery that would make for a breathtaking VR experience.
Third-party companies like Amplifon, an Italian manufacturer of hearing aids, are already trying to make Street View more immersive. The company recently unveiled “Sounds of Street View,” a project that adds short sound clips to Google’s ground-level maps. Google is already sitting on the most compelling app for virtual reality outside of a video game, and it will only be a matter of time before we're all taking trips from the comfort of our couches.
Google also allows anyone in the world to share "photo spheres" through Views, but doesn't yet let others view through a makeshift headset. It's only a matter of time before that changes.
Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ:FB) said in March that it would acquire the makers of the Oculus Rift for $2 billion, following the Kickstarter success of its Oculus Rift. The deal was like a war cry, followed by announcements and reports regarding gaming heavyweights like Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ:MSFT) and Sony Corporation (NYSE:SNE), also at work on their own VR headsets.
But at its annual developer's conference in June, Google made it clear that it was taking a different approach. For Google, free is always best, but cheap is almost as good. From a hardware perspective, Google's cardboard posits the notion that a cheap accessory, capable of turning the better-than-HD screens found in premium flagships like the LG G3 into the main display of a VR headset, is as good as any pricey helmet.
So Google made its headset out of cardboard. But that doesn’t mean the search giant isn’t taking this new frontier for gaming and app development seriously. In fact, the company has been taking steps to make Google Maps products like Street View the killer app for the headset technology.