Google Is Shuttering the Expeditions App, but Its VR Field Trips Aren’t Going Away For Good

Google Is Shuttering the Expeditions App, but Its VR Field Trips Aren’t Going Away For Good
Google is migrating many of the functions of its virtual reality field trips app Expeditions to its Arts & Culture app, which the woman pictured above is using to interact with exhibits at the Museum of Natural History in Berlin. (Photo: Tobias Schwarz, Getty Images)

Another one of Google’s virtual reality ventures is biting the dust. The company says it’s ending support for its VR educational app, Expeditions, next year, though it’ll fare far better than Google’s shuttered Daydream VR platform. Instead of discontinuing Expeditions completely, Google’s folding many of the app’s functions into its Arts & Culture app.

It feels like a lifetime ago when every tech company and its mother was jumping on the VR bandwagon, but then again 2020 has made time feel like one big soupy mess. Google launched Expeditions in 2015 for its Cardboard VR headset, a dirt-cheap VR smartphone adaptor made out of literal cardboard, and marketed the app as a classroom aide for “virtual field trips” long before covid-19 was a thing.

Google said in a blog post on Friday that it will no longer support the Expeditions app and plans to remove it from iOS and Android app stores after June 30, 2021. Many of the app’s tours will migrate to Google’s Arts & Culture app, the company’s director of education program management, Jennifer Holland, explained. She framed the decision as a response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has pushed many workplaces and schools online around the world.

“As schools around the world reimagine education from the ground up for a hybrid world, we’ve also been thinking deeply about how to adjust our tools to meet the moment and simultaneously build for the future,” Holland wrote. “We’ve heard and recognise that immersive experiences with VR headsets are not always accessible to all learners and even more so this year, as the transition to hybrid learning has presented challenges for schools to effectively use Expeditions.”

Google Arts & Culture is already home to plenty of other neat VR and AR experiences (like this tool for turning your selfie into a famous art piece) as well as museum collections from more than 2,000 cultural institutions, so it seems a natural fit for Expeditions’ repertoire. You can use the Cardboard viewer for some of the content on the Arts & Culture app, but don’t be surprised if that option quietly disappears eventually. Google’s been distancing itself from VR for a while now. It pulled the plug on its Daydream headset last year and open-sourced the software behind Cardboard not long after that. With Expeditions now on the chopping block too, Google’s bargain-basement headset doesn’t seem long for this world.