Alongside all of Google’s new hardware and software announcements yesterday, there was another development that a lot of people might have missed: Google’s Daydream VR headset appears to be going away.
The death of Daydream VR has been a long time coming. After Google launched its smartphone-based VR headset in 2016, the platform didn’t get much in the way of support in the three years since its release.
Then, when specs for the Pixel 4 failed to mention compatibility for Daydream VR, VentureBeat got confirmation from Google that the device is being discontinued (though the app and store will continue to work for now).
But more importantly, when you combine Daydream’s end-of-life status with the lack of support for Samsung’s Gear VR headset on the Galaxy Note 10, we’re essentially looking at the death of smartphone-based VR headsets as a whole.
While this might sound like a bad thing for the future of VR — which still struggles to garner mainstream appeal — it’s actually a positive sign of things to come. I mean, let’s be honest, pretty much every smartphone-based VR headset regardless of who made them is kind of garbage.
Google helped push the idea of smartphone VR way back in 2014 with Google Cardboard. But even after enlisting the help of multiple major news organisations that gave away Google Cardboard kits for free with the purchase of a newspaper or magazine, most of these kits ended up in the trash, after maybe five or 10 minutes of actual use.
Later, Samsung followed Cardboard with the Gear VR, which offered a much higher-quality, more comfortable, and immersive experience. But once again, even though Samsung bundled free Gear VR headsets with the purchase of Galaxy phones over multiple generations, it never felt like either of these smartphone-based VR systems had real staying power.
And that’s totally fine because smartphone VR was always going to be an intermediate step on the way to full-fledged standalone VR headsets like the Oculus Quest. So in some ways, the death of Daydream and the decline of Gear VR is a sign that the VR maturing, with customers gravitating towards devices with higher resolution and better performance.
Furthermore, the entire concept of slotting your smartphone into a separate headset just to experience VR was a flawed concept from the start. Setup was often felt clunky and confusing, while using your phone to power VR experiences sucked the device’s battery life dry, potentially leaving in a tight spot when you came back to meatspace.
Daydream and Gear VR’s main advantage was a low price, but with Oculus selling the Quest for around $600 (versus around $150 for a headset without a phone), getting started with VR today isn’t quite as expensive as it used to be.
That said, I do want to give the Daydream headset credit for being one of the most comfortable VR headsets ever made, and possibly the best looking too. Instead of the bulbous plastic domes found used on other headsets, Google’s Daydream headset was covered in a soft, breathable fabric, that helped prevent the VR sweats you normally encounter while using VR. Daydream is one of, if not the only headset that doesn’t look out of place if left in someone’s living room.
But with Daydream and others like it having met their end, the floor for what can be considered “good” just got a lot higher. Now, people just need to decide if they want a casual wire-free experience you get from standalone VR headsets like the Oculus Quest, or if they prefer more premium PC-based headset like Valve Index or the Vive Cosmos.
RIP Daydream, you were a neat take on mobile VR, but you were never going to last.