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The Wall Street Journal today reports that Google has a new virtual reality operating system based on Android in the works, meant apparently as an upgrade for the relatively low-power Cardboard app that’s been available since last summer. There aren’t too many details other than that, but if true, it would represent yet another major tech player taking virtual reality seriously.

The report cites “two people familiar with the project” who say that Google has “tens of engineers” working on it. Moreover, the operating system will apparently be freely distributed along the same lines as the Android OS, meaning that just about anyone with the technical knowhow will be able to use it and run VR hardware on it.

Additionally, the report says that the initiative is separate from the mysterious Magic Leap, in which Google has invested a large portion of its $542 million in fundraising. The report also says that this project is also not related to the ongoing Project Tango initiative, which mixes real-time 3D mapping with augmented reality on a smartphone or tablet. Meanwhile, the WSJ says the new VR operating system is being spearheaded by Google’s Clay Bavor and Jeremy Doig, the former of which having had a big hand in developing Cardboard.

So how will this new OS differ from what’s come before? And how will Google push it with hardware makers?

While I’m usually all for Google’s various projects, this one seems like it won’t work out as well as some of the other VR headsets coming from other companies. In devices like smartphones and even smartwatches, it’s not overly important that hardware and software be developed together. Sure, can sometimes give devices a leg up – Apple’s whole lineup of products is overwhelming proof of that. But with a smartphone or computer, you usually won’t experience too many performance issues as long as the hardware maker holds up his end of the bargain.

That isn’t likely to be the case when it comes to VR. One of the most important aspects of providing a great VR experience is to reduce – or, ideally, eliminate – lag and latency. To do so, software and hardware have to be way more in sync than a phone does with its OS.

While Cardboard is an awesome app for mobile VR, and I want more interesting hardware solutions for that product, I have to wonder whether or not Google’s Android VR OS would be up to the task. Obviously this analysis is all very premature – we’ll have to actually know what’s happening before we can make too many comments about anything.

But given that HTC and Valve had to be in close collaboration for a long time before unveiling the Vive – which, along with Sony’s forthcoming Project Morpheus, is the closest thing to a real competitor the Oculus Rift has seen – I have to wonder if Google can simply make a freely distributed VR operating system and achieve similar results.

[Source: WSJ]

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