So now we know, courtesy of the Wall Street Journal: Google is to build a new augmented reality OS based on Android, and it’s already assembled a team of engineers to do it. The search colossus, it seems, has thrown the gauntlet firmly at the feet of Microsoft, Samsung and Facebook.
For those of us who look forward to the day when we can view interactive content apparently suspended in mid-air above our coffee tables, this is quite exciting stuff. According to the WSJ, Google’s Android VR project team comprises “tens of engineers” plus additional staff and the tech giant is apparently planning to distribute the new OS (when available) free of charge.
The WSJ’s sources claim that the team is being led by Google’s Director of Engineering, Jeremy Doig and its VP of Product Management, Clay Bavor. But this development has probably been in the making for some time: Google is clearly interested in augmented reality. In October last year, it led a massive $542million investment in the secretive “Magic Leap” startup, which is rumoured to be poised to release a mysterious new wearable in the not-too-distant future. It’s also been working on Project Tango – a project that will use a smartphone camera to create a map of your environment in 3D, as well as entering the VR space boldly last year with Google Cardboard (a DIY headset that brought the price of smartphone-based VR down to about £10).
The new OS isn’t going to be a version of Android Lollipop, forked to run a VR headset. It’s slated to be a distinct and independent piece of software related to the Android ecosystem. And it’ll be open source, meaning that intrepid OEMs will be able to create their own twist on Android VR ROMs for forthcoming devices.
As often happens with Google, it has yet to make any official announcement about an Android VR platform (the WSJ article refers to unnamed sources only). It’s possible that the wraps will come off at the annual Google I/O in May but in the meantime, there are no details to be had on how, exactly, the new platform is going to work.
The bottom line is that everyone will be kept in their proverbial suspenders until more details emerge.