Virtual Reality until very recently was relegated to the ultra-nerdy. Dwelling primarily in the realm of sci-fi, gaming culture or the recent onslaught of 3D-blockbuster movies. With today's technology however, the time of two-tone 3D glasses are long gone, replaced now by expensive hardware headsets giving viewers a glimpse into the virtual. Cutting to March 2014 and the highly debated Facebook acquisition of Oculus Rift, it is undeniable that VR is having it's moment in the sun.
For those of us not rushing out to grab the first run of the Oculus, fear not—there is another way to experience the virtual. The wave of cardboard virtual reality viewers has opened up an entirely new use case for your smartphone.
The DODOcase VR Viewer Kit
On the heels of Google's ‘Cardboard’ viewer and matching app in early 2014, a number of smaller brands took note, creating their own versions to turn your very own smartphone into a VR viewer with a handy foldable kit. The concept of a cardboard virtual reality viewer is the quintessential marriage of high-low tech, effectively retrofitting the smartphone for a number of new use cases. A far cry from the Oculus (rumored to retail between $200-400), cardboard viewers are a first step toward bringing low-cost VR to a wider audience.
One of the quickest to jump on the cardboard bandwagon after Google’s announcement was the San Francisco-based DODOcase creating their version of Cardboard a mere 24-hours later. Most recently, DODOcase took a step further announcing a customizable printed cardboard version on their site retailing at just under $25 dollars. With a successful Kickstarter campaign funded this past December to the tune of over $60,000, DODOcase is well on the way to creating a go-to community for Cardboard VR aficionados the world over.
The DODOcase VR Viewer now boasts 6+ printable surfaces.
DODOcase appears to have a history of pulling the ‘quick-launch’ on the coat tails of major product releases; the company was founded immediately following the release of the iPad way back in 2010. Co-founders Patrick Buckley and Craig Dalton were originally dedicated to making high-quality sleeves for tablets, laptops and phones, growing a business based on craftsmanship and an eye for materials. The shift to VR appeared much later as an opportunistic leap following Google's annual I/O developer conference where they announced Cardboard. Originally Google Cardboard was an idea developed as a 20% Project (a Google initiative allowing employees to use one day a week to work on side projects) by David Coz and Damien Henry at the Google Cultural Institute in Paris, but the DODOcase team saw massive potential for the open source plans.
“As individuals we are very passionate about the craftsman and maker movement. But we are also keenly into digital technology and the developer community of builders. With [Google]Cardboard, it’s just this amazing intersection of taking something that was originally designed for talking—your phone—and transforming it into an entirely different, new immersive experience.” Craig Dalton explains on the DODOcase blog.
While the VR viewer is an unconventional expansion of the DODOcase line, their newest iteration of customizable viewers at least sets them apart from their competition. Though the online interface, customers can design the 6+ printable surfaces of their own VR viewers to display any number of photos, patterns or brands. While only a cosmetic step forward for the low-end affordable viewer, it’s a smart one in capturing even a fraction of the billion+ market of mobile phone users.
Interface for customizing your very own DODOcase VR Viewer.
DODOcase additionally markets a Developer K
it and Hat-Mount display bundle in hopes of promoting the development of new apps for the viewer, of which there are still relatively few available from Google. The humourous approach DODOcase as taken to further product developments for their VR viewer appears to be giving them a leg up on their partners at Google. DODOcase maintains that the VR Viewer already accounts for a huge faction of their overall sales that only stands to grow in 2015, despite extremely similar products on the market.
DODOcase Hat Mount for Hands-free usage.
While its hard to predict what will be next for VR viewers at all price points, the Oculus Rift and DODOcase Virtual Reality Viewer are a clear indication that high and low-end options are covered. Until Oculus is released or we see a viable mid-range, we will be sticking with the good ol' cardboard for our virtual experiences.