Google Daydream Seems on the Verge of Totally Dead

Google’s latest smartphone, the Pixel 3A, won’t support Daydream, the company’s virtual reality (VR) initiative. And that’s very scary news for any developers who invested in building for the Daydream platform.

Just in case your memory’s a little foggy on Google’s VR efforts, here’s a quick refresher: Back in 2016, Daydream made its debut as part of Android N, the then-current version of Google’s mobile OS. In addition to a developer SDK and a handful of apps, Daydream included a fancy headset (which used an Android smartphone as the “screen”) and a one-handed controller.

In theory, Daydream was going to unleash an entire ecosystem. Developers would build games and productivity apps for VR, and customers would flock to those products just as they did for smartphone apps. By relying on Android phones to deliver the actual VR experience, Google would guarantee itself a ready-made install base.

But somewhere along the way, Google evidently lost faith in the project. Keeping Daydream exclusive to Android phones shut off the huge pool of iOS customers who might have tried out Google’s take on VR. In addition, manufacturers supported Daydream in a piecemeal manner; for example, it only came to Samsung phones more than a year after its initial release.

If Google outright abandons its VR ambitions, that’s very bad news for the developers who thought the company would invest heavily on VR as an up-and-coming technology segment. Indeed, Google gave them every reason to think VR was here to stay: There was the fancy Daydream website, a special Daydream section in the Google Play app store, and phone-free Daydream headsets.  

But Google also has an unwelcome habit of murdering projects with little warning. This year alone, the company has whacked Google+ (its once-promising social network), Inbox by Gmail, Fusion Tables, Google Allo, Chromecast Audio, and… the Mr. Jingles notification widget (the Google Cemetery gives a top-level view of all the casualties over the years).   

Those developers who’ve invested heavily in VR can always migrate their software to dedicated headsets such as Oculus (which just released the Oculus Quest, priced at $399 and intended for broad adoption). Even so, those headsets remain very much a niche product, targeted mainly at high-end gamers with cash to burn; it’s hard to tell whether lightweight games developed for smartphone-based VR can succeed in that context.

In the meantime, Google has another fading project on its hands. If you’re a developer interested in Daydream, don’t get your hopes up; if Google can’t offer support on its latest flagship phones, what hope does the overall platform have?

One Response to “Google Daydream Seems on the Verge of Totally Dead”

  1. Colin

    I think AR is a mistake, and Google is making a mistake abandoning a platform as versatile as Daydream.

    People are increasingly choosing to do 1 of 2 things (or even both simultaneously):

    1) Reduce their internet/social media use, in which case AR is too plugged in. Nobody I know (30/m/midwest) really posts anything meaningful to facebook anymore, because it just gets drowned out, and we all know what happens when you try to discuss important things on facebook. We don’t check in on facebook, we don’t share pictures on facebook. Instead, I have my personal one-directional network (most of whom also have me in their networks) of about 20 family and close friends. They are the ones who see where I check in (and my ratings!) on google Maps. They are the ones who get notifications that my Photos Live Album of my son has new pictures auto-uploaded to it (and as someone who hates curating photographs, thank god for facial recognition!). If we use text we use MMS group chats. Yeah we could have these things overlaid over our eyeballs but that means we’re getting notifications over our eyeballs, too, and I think a lot of us are just so damn tired of useless notifications.

    2) The other side of the coin is plugging in more, and that’s already met by VR. If my wife and I need to scratch the itch to be social we either just go out, or one of us gets on the Daydream VchatXR or w/e it’s called. I read a comment recently that said “being able to throw a google play movie up on the wall in AR is going to be the killer app”. Why??? So when I’m sitting together with friends or family I can have an incredibly invasive advertisement or work email pop up over my eyes? No thanks.

    So why hasn’t google merged these two seemingly dichotomous things? Daydream is poised to do it. They have the cheapest VR on the market, and it has the simplest controls. Even Aunt Mary 6 states away can figure out (only 3 buttons!) and afford (only $75!) Daydream. So why aren’t me and Aunt Mary taking rudimentary avatar scans of ourselves (Hello google Photo AI!) to use as avatars in a limited and immersed VR environment? We chat twice a week, and I’d kill to have our chats take place in the VR experience of “going in the tank” and pushing out distractions and notifications for 10 minutes. Why is it that if I want to talk to someone socially, it’s still the Plain Old Telephone System, or sometimes a difficult and awkward video call? Daydream can fix this.

    The truth is, People aren’t interested in more screens, much less putting screens over their real world. Businesses are definitely interested in you seeing more screens though, and you’re not really open to advertising in VR.