When it comes to virtual reality, Google has been very active in getting cheap devices into people's hands, thanks to Google Cardboard, and even supplying them with plenty of content to view, through YouTube.
In 2016 Google introduced Daydream, a new VR platform for Android devices that's built right into Android Nougat and supported by Google's own viewer hardware, the Daydream View. In 2017, Google moved this into standalone VR, announcing plans for headsets that don't require a phone or connecting to a computer.
Here's everything you need to know about Daydream, Google's fresh take on mobile VR.
What is Daydream?
Daydream effectively simplifies access to virtual reality content on a mobile device.
It comes in three key aspects. There is an optimal specification list that manufacturers must meet for a smartphone to be labelled Daydream-ready.
There is a Google-made Daydream View VR headset, although multiple manufacturers could also build their own designs (as long as they meet Google's standards).
And there is an all-in-one hub for VR content. Daydream Home is a one-stop shop where you can start virtual reality apps or view videos while wearing the headset itself.
Why do we need Daydream?
At present, virtual reality content is fragmented. It is available from different places, but rarely all accessible from the one central location. Anyone who's gone through the charade of watching 360-degree YouTube videos on a Samsung Gear VR will know what we mean. You have to jump through several hoops just to get to the content you want to view.
Daydream is designed to solve that, at least for Android device owners. It will house the content from all mobile VR developers, no matter who they are. Sources big and small will be immediately accessible through the hub.
In addition, while Google Cardboard has been a fun and easy device to use to get a flavour of what VR is about, it's hardly high-tech or, in many cases, comfortable. The Daydream View headset is a much more comfortable and practical approach, rather than the ad hoc nature of Cardboard viewers.
What devices will work with Daydream?
To use Daydream, you'll need a Daydream viewer of some sort. At the moment, the only Daydream headset available is Google's own Daydream View. As well as the Daydream View headset there is also a specific Daydream remote control, which comes with the Google device. It is designed by Google and enables users to interact with apps without having to tap the side of the headset - as in the case with the current Samsung Gear VR - or fiddling with other on-headset controls.
At the launch of Daydream, many partners were announced, with the likes of HTC, LG, Huawei and others listed. So far there's been no other viewers launched, although some details have been shared about the Huawei VR headset. There's no launch date on it, but we suspect it will be alongside a future phone, like the Huawei P10.
The list of manufacturers that have so-far committed to releasing Daydream-ready phones includes Samsung, HTC, LG, Xiaomi, Huawei, ZTE, Asus and Alcatel. To be classed as Daydream-ready, you need to conform to Google's guidelines, although many flagship devices will qualify in 2017.
The following phones have been launched as Daydream ready, meaning you'll be able to use Daydream on these devices:
- Google Pixel (review)
- Google Pixel XL (review)
- Huawei Mate 9 Pro (preview)
- Porsche Design Mate 9 (preview)
- Moto Z (review)
- Moto Z Force
- Samsung Galaxy S8 (review)
- Samsung Galaxy S8+ (review)
- ZTE Axon 7
The following devices have been announced as "coming soon" to Daydream:
- Asus ZenFone AR (preview)
Qualcomm has also been vocal in supporting Daydream, saying that its Snapdragon 821 is Daydream ready, and that's what you'll find in the Google Pixel. However, even though you have the right hardware, the device manufacturer has to decide to support Daydream. For example, the new HTC U11 isn't Daydream compatible, because HTC doesn't see that as a priority (or would rather push its own Vive headset).
What about standalone Daydream VR?
Google and Qualcomm announced at Google I/O 2017 that they have partnered on a standalone Daydream VR headset. Building on the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 platform, the companies have produced a reference device that will give you a VR experience with no need to slip a phone into the front and no need to plug it into a computer.
Standalone Daydream VR headsets are due to hit the shelves later in 2017.
Using technology from the Tango project, it comes with what Google is calling WorldSense positional tracking, with no need for any external cameras. This is enabled by using external sensors, so that all movement is accurately tracked, with 6 degrees of freedom.
Lenovo Daydream VR headset
Lenovo has confirmed that it will be building a VR headset, but hasn't revealed anything further. The company worked to produce some of the frst Tango headset, so has some experience in this area.
HTC Daydream VR headset
HTC has confirmed that it will be launching a new Vive device and it will be available later in the year. HTC obviously gave birth to Vive, one of the most accomplished VR headsets to date, so its experience will pay dividends in creating a new device.
What apps will be compatible with Daydream?
We also spotted Netflix VR, HBO Go and Hulu on the list, and the company revealed that an app based on JK Rowling's Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them will be coming too.
There will be plenty of games too, of course.
When is Daydream coming and how much will it cost?
Google's Daydream View VR headset and accompanying remote control are available from Google's own online store. You will need a compatible smartphone to use the headset.
Shipping started on 10 November 2016 in the UK, US and other countries. Priced at £69 in the UK, $79 in the US, Daydream View is available in slate, snow and crimson colours.
The Daydream app also launched in the Google Play Store on 10 November. This app serves as the main hub for Daydream View headset. With it, you can find and play with Daydream-compatible apps installed on your phone. You will also have access to Google Play Store to download other apps and experiences.
Before downloading the app, you may have to update your phone to the latest version of Android 7.1 Nougat.