In 2015, Google launched its formal entry into the world of mobile-powered virtual reality. Cardboard was revolutionary in the way it empowered VR experiences with nothing but, well, a makeshift cardboard headset with special lenses. But while headsets were relatively easy to make, the software behind Cardboard stagnated to the point of being forgotten. Now Google seems to be stirring things up a bit by trying to breathe new life into Google Cardboard, mostly be handing off its upkeep to the open source community.
The whole point of Google Cardboard was to make virtual reality experiences accessible to those who can’t afford a full-blown headset, not to mention the computer needed to run the software. Although it required a more or less powerful smartphone, such mobile devices were still a fraction of the price of a full VR system.
But a smartphone and a headset together still don’t equate to a VR experience. That’s where Google’s VR Software Development Kit or SDK came in, tying the hardware together. Google has long abandoned that SDK but was surprised at how many still tried to use the existing frameworks to continue creating VR apps even if already unsupported.
Seeing an audience but not completely invested in the platform anymore, Google did what any tech company does to put a product on life support: open source it. With an open source VR SDK, companies and communities can pick up where Google left off and keep Cardboard going. Better yet, they can probably even try extending it to places Google never dared take it.
This announcement comes just months after speculation that Daydream VR, Cardboard successor, was similarly discontinued. There is no formal obituary yet but it’s pretty much accepted fact. If the open source Cardboard becomes successful, it will hopefully encourage Google to also open source Daydream to at least keep mobile VR from going extinct.