c’t Magazin’s Jan-Keno Janssen walks us through smartphone virtual reality

Thinking inside the box

I met Jan-Keno at the FIPP Digital Innovators’ Summit event in Berlin last month, on a stand containing all manner of wearable-tech from smart-watches and activity trackers, through to the Samsung Gear VR – a pioneering new piece of eyewear produced in conjunction with Oculus that turns your smartphone into a complete virtual reality headset.

What seemed to steal the show was a piece from Google. Dubbed simply ‘Google Cardboard’, it was another good example of how Google had taken a seemingly cutting edge piece of media-technology – the Yahoo! Homepage, behavioural ad-targeting, news curation – and stripped everything back to show that all you really need to enjoy the latest digital trend is a couple of elastic bands and a cardboard box, in this case literally.

“We’ve brought the Samsung/Oculus Gear VR,” said Janssen. “But we also have these very charming – cheap – cardboard boxes where you just put a smartphone in and just start-up a VR app. It doesn’t look like anything when you just look at the phone, but when you put it in this box, you really have a Virtual Reality headset. It’s really fun and I think it’s really impressive to get such a good quality out of a little cardbox. The most important thing is that you have the head tracking: when you move your head in reality you move your head in virtual reality as well, and that’s what tricks your brain into really being in there.”

Was Google Cardboard as graphically and immersively sophisticated as the Samsung Gear VR? Probably not. But it wasn’t far off. And what is startling when you strip everything back to a couple of elastic bands and a carboard box is the ease with which our smartphones – those little computers that never leave our side – are increasingly being turned into immersive experiences and wearable tech. Today’s giant oversized glasses and cardboard boxes may not seem so scary, but by the time this technology has evolved into a micro-chip implant and a set of digital contact lenses, it may well do!

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