The New York Times is sending out a million Google Cardboards to go with its upcoming VR films. It’s an exciting time to think about the adoption curve of cheap and easy mainstream virtual reality.
In order for VR to mainstream, it must be accessible and affordable.
That means $350 Oculus headsets that need a $2000 computer to run aren’t realistic for Joe Blow Public. And the Halolens developer kits are going to cost $3,000. This is why I’m so bullish on Cardboard breaking barriers at first-time and low-entry VR. It’s a great “my first VR” option, especially for interactions you don’t need a controller for — like AT&T’s It Can Wait and YouTube. Beyond big file app downloads, the Google Chrome Experiments (in-browser) powering Cardboard are most exciting because they don’t need specific applications.
With all of this said, VR headsets are still a niche category with only niche content available. There isn’t yet a regular, ongoing must-have content experience that is a big enough carrot for the world to demand access. Will the NYT’s new VRSE partnership and content studio be widely successful? That depends on your definition of success.
This promotion is reminiscent of the year 2000, when Radio Shack, Wired, Forbes, Parade and others distributed the CueCat bar code scanner free to subscribers. It was bundled with the magazines, which they had special bar codes throughout their issues.
This was a step in the future!
Now you could scan the barcode on any product in your house and unlock exclusive content, websites, nutritional information, etc. from a simple barcode scan of a USB device hooked to your desktop computer. It was amazing hardware that worked with any computer to unlock new experiences. But consumers weren’t ready for it 15 years ago. However, today, there are now multiple phone apps that do this same task. We’re ready for this now, and more.
So instead of focusing on the specific hardware and media promotions of the day, I will suggest we should focus on the increased content options for users and try to perceive what value they can get from VR they can’t get elsewhere — hardware be damned. We’re excited to test the NYT VR experience. But we also have our expectations set that each of these introductions are baby steps toward a more immersive, affordable exchange between user and content.
At the end of the day, the top 10 Google News results for “NYT Cardboard” don’t include any coverage from the NYT itself. And it’s piece doesn’t include a single visual. So they have a ways to go when it comes to visual storytelling across the board. An education on VR storytelling in-house at the NYT can only help their primary newsroom. Right? We’ll see.