Google just moved one step closer to its vision of taking virtual reality a mainstream. On February 9, Google announced that its Chrome browser supports VR experiences. As noted on a blog post, “With the latest version of Chrome, we’re bringing VR to the web—making it as easy to step inside Air Force One as it is to access your favorite webpage.”
This announcement means that anyone using Chrome can experience virtual reality on sites that deliver such experiences, such as the interactive documentary Bear 71, which explores the relationship between animals, people, and technology; Within, a collection of VR films; and Matterport’s Library, a collection of celebrity homes, museums, and other notable places.
These sites are best experienced using Google’s Daydream-ready phones and headsets, but even if you lack the equipment, you can have immersive VR-like experiences on them. As noted in Mashable, the Chrome update uses WebVR technology, which makes it possible for websites to provide VR experiences. In addition to Google, tech companies such as Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Samsung also support WebVR.
This announcement is another sign that Google intends to deliver on its promise to “bring VR to everyone on every device.” (By contrast, Facebook seeks to turn its own platform into a VR social experience.) At its 2016 I/O event, Google unveiled its vision to democratize VR when the company unveiled its Daydream VR ecosystem, consisting of smart phones, a more affordable headset and controller, and apps designed for VR. Since then, Google has been taking a number of steps to realize that vision, such as:
- In June 2016, Google expanded its Expeditions program through which teachers armed with tablets, phones, and a Google Cardboard viewer can take students on virtual tours of places ranging from Antarctica to the International Space Station.
- Also in June, Google shared an online demo showing how creatives, using Daydream, can create animation in VR without possessing any specialty skills. This move showed Google’s intent to give designers the tools to use VR easily. As I mentioned at the time, making VR accessible to creatives is important — breakthroughs in any endeavor occur when the tools of production are accessible and democratic. For that reason, bringing VR to Chrome is important. As Mashable indicated, “Adding it to Chrome is a huge step in giving VR creators a larger platform to showcase the experiences they design.”
- In November, Google released its Daydream VR headset, which, as promised, offers a more affordable quality VR experience.
- In January 2017, Google opened up Daydream to more app developers, which will expand the availability of VR-ready content, which is sorely lacking (so long as that content follows Google’s standards).
- Google also made Tilt Brush more useful. Tilt Brush enables the painting of life-size, three-dimensional images when used with the HTC Vive VR equipment. The Tilt Brush Toolkit makes it possible to create VR concepts in Tilt Brush and then import them into Unity engine, which developers use to design games and 3D software. As Fast Company noted, with the Tilt Brush Toolkit, “Google is quietly turning VR into a real creative tool.”
- Meanwhile, Google has been partnering with filmmakers and musicians such as Queen’s Brian May to create entertainment rooted in VR, examples being Google’s Spotlight Stories and The Bohemian Rhapsody Experience, an app that presents Queen’s masterpiece as an immersive journey “through frontman Freddie Mercury’s subconscious mind,” in Google’s words. One of the Spotlight Stories films, Pearl, became the first VR movie nominated for an Academy Award.
At its 2016 I/O event, Google CEO Sundar Pichai envisioned a future that consists of everyday Google users relying on VR to do everything from watch concerts on YouTube to navigate Google Maps. If Google has its way, creation of content, not just exploring it, will be a VR experience, with Google being the essential platform. When you consider that Google commands a considerable amount of our attention already, including 3.5 billion searches a day, you begin to grasp the magnitude of Google’s potential impact on VR.
The reality about virtual reality is that VR is not crashing down on us like a tidal wave, even with the support of heavyweights such as Google. VR is trickling into our lives slowly, and experiencing detours along the way. Despite its low cost, the Daydream headset has not exactly taken off, with reasons ranging from a lack of interesting content to lack of available companion phones to give the product critical mass. The future is coming in fits and starts. But it’s coming. Google is creating a VR future through is already-established ecosystem and influence in our lives.