Whether you're a content creator or an individual user, Daydream is a perplexing proposition. The VR platform debuted alongside Google's much-vaunted smartphone, and yet to find its footing in consumer or enterprise markets. Even though conceptually it represented a worthy alternative to Samsung's venerable Gear VR platform, it was mired by difficulties, ranging from a limited range of hardware support to a persistent lack of engaging content appealing to casual users. As 2017 draws to a close, some industry observers are concerned Daydream may lose inertia due to Google's lack of commitment to high-end content.
Content is King
Problems begin with an anemic content pipeline on the Daydream Store, which is being supplemented with standard 360-video from YouTube (which are also viewable on Cardboard devices, and therefore don't represent a significant value to Daydream users). In addition, Google's seems to have only the vaguest direction for their fast-casual, Samsung VR-like initiatives; despite the acquisition of venerable studio Owlchemy Labs in May, there have been no signs of any first party developments in the future, while more recent initiatives such as Impact and Expeditions seem more focused on driving 360 photography and video as opposed to traditional computer-generated VR content.
Vive vs. Vaporware
Finally, Daydream's coup-de-grace, the standalone headsets announced at their annual I/O, experienced a serious shakeup; after confirmation that the newly-released Vive Focus, would be exclusive to China, and Google's VR team declared the official cancellation of Daydream on the device, the only major release left is the HMD from Lenovo. Neither party has been particularly interested in promoting the device, and since it's announcement at I/O over half a year ago, few media interviews, specifications, timeframe, or information has been made available.
This is a far cry from Google's first foray into virtual reality, Cardboard, whose sales figures remain indomitable. The deceptively simple idea of smartphone-powered VR remains an attractive proposition for casual users and a powerful driver of adoption. Likewise, initiatives built on Cardboard's budget framework, such as Google Expeditions, are likely to see greater attention as XR technology makes its way into mainstream education. Most importantly, however, Cardboard-based experiences and tools represent significantly lower costs for Google overall, and it seems increasingly likely that the company is simply jumping off what it may perceive to be a bandwagon and refocus its efforts on other, more promising technologies, such as AR, machine learning, or IoT.
All this leaves the contingent of Daydream optimists (including yours truly) with several unanswered questions; Is Google pulling out of high-end mobile VR altogether? How will this affect future smartphone designs? Is the market really ready for standalone VR? Will ARCore help to eventually refresh the platform? Hopefully, 2018 will offer more insight into the future of VR at Google.