Google has formed a division to focus on virtual reality, a move that comes in the face of growing competition from Facebook and its subsidiary Oculus. Google CEO Sundar Pichai has appointed one of his deputies, Clay Bavor, to run the division. Google declined further comment. The development was first reported by technology news outlet Re/code.
Bavor, vice president for product management, ran Google apps such as Gmail and Drive. Responsibility for apps will now fall to Diane Greene, the enterprise software veteran and Google board member who now runs Google’s cloud computing business.
Google has invested heavily in Cardboard, a $20 cardboard holder which transforms a smartphone into a 3-D viewing device. The inexpensive and accessible device is aimed at bringing mobile virtual reality to the masses. Google formed a partnership with GoPro and brought 360-degree videos to YouTube.
Also, Google has invested $542 million in augmented reality company Magic Leap, which is developing eyeglasses that project computer-generated images onto real life. And Google is rumored to be building a version of Android for virtual reality devices.
“I think Google has been serious about VR, and I think they are getting more serious,” said Gartner research director Brian Blau.
Virtual reality has been mostly hype for years because the technology is tough to develop, Blau says.
Even now, there are very few devices on the market.
Samsung’s $99 Gear VR Powered by Oculus headset represents the first time the promise of sophisticated virtual reality is being delivered at a populist price. And Facebook’s Oculus Rift is shipping in March for $599. The headset will include built-in headphones and microphone, a sensor and an Xbox One controller.
At the Consumer Electronics Show last week, 360 video and virtual reality were the talk of the show. YouTube’s Chief Business Officer Robert Kyncl said virtual reality would dramatically change the mobile viewing experience and predicted it would grow “exponentially.”
“VR has a bright future, but it can’t happen in a vacuum,” Blau said. “It’s going to take the major ecosystem providers like Google to put their resources into it to push this technology forward.”
Google is gearing up as competition in the emerging virtual reality space intensifies, analysts say.
“Google likes big markets that are emerging,” BGC Partners analyst Colin Gillis said. “Cardboard has been a big success, relatively speaking, and they should seize that momentum.”