Tag Archives: Google Cardboard

How Virtual Reality Could Shake Up Retail Experiences

Written by: Eric Fransen
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I have a confession to make. I wasn’t always a believer in virtual reality. I thought it was the latest tech fad, with everyone trying so hard to make it happen.

Gamers are in the middle of the Virtual Reality Rebirth with Playstation VR (formerly Project Morpheus), Oculus Rift, Google Cardboard, and others. You can’t talk about the future of the gaming industry without discussing virtual reality. Want to ride a virtual rollercoaster? What about a survival horror experience? You got it.

Yet, none of it was speaking to me in a way that caused me to say “THIS is the future…” until I tried the HTC Vive with Steam VR. It was eye-opening to say the least. For the first time in my life, I actually felt like I was completely immersed and present in a virtual world.

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HTC Vive taught me everything I know about digital kitchens.

To try and describe my experience with the Vive would not do it justice. It truly must be experienced to comprehend how realistic it is. In the demo that I tried, I watched as a full-scale whale swam by me on a sunken ship, I painted in 3D space and could walk through my creation, I cooked a meal in a kitchen, and I tried to repair Atlas — a robot from the beloved Portal series. It was incredible. TL;DR I’m a believer.

So how does this come to life in retail?
The possibilities are endless. With flexible VR tech like Google Cardboard and other smartphone-enabled opportunities, retailers can create simple, lightweight experiences designed to be used remotely or to enhance the in-store experience. With more sophisticated tech like the HTC Vive that requires a substantial footprint, there’s an opportunity to create in-store engagements that transport consumers into virtual worlds where they can experience products firsthand.

Here are a few ideas of how this could come to life:

Design: Stores like Bed Bath & Beyond or Home Depot could create an interior design experience where consumers virtually build their dream house using products available in the store. Once the design is complete, they’re provided with a shopping list of the appropriate materials.

Outdoor: Outdoor stores like REI could create experiences that allow consumers to try out the gear in the context of amazing locales like Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, and even Mount Everest.

Fashion: Stores like Forever 21 and H&M could allow customers to model various clothing items on avatars modeled after their body types. This could extend to unique designs and colorations to be custom-made for the customer.

But why does this matter?
As I’ve touched on in a previous post: personalization (or perceived personalization). Virtual reality offers the ability to completely personalize the experience for each customer. It affords flexibility and immersion in the shopping experience like never before. In many cases, it’s going to be the closest consumers can get to trying out products without actually trying out the product. The possibilities are endless.

Cardboard Redux

Written by: Ian Sherwood
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Google gets it. They understand that widespread VR is coming soon and that means headsets – those clunky, awkward, hairstyle-destroying devices that allow us to imagine we are standing on the USS Enterprise or on the Great Wall of China, all while sitting at a Starbucks.

With Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus Rift and Microsoft’s HoloLens, headsets are definitely real products. But Google gets that we aren’t all going to shell out $200 or more and strap on bulky headsets just for a taste of VR. They lowered the bar last year by eschewing bulky plastics and high-tech eyewear and introducing Google Cardboard: a simple, folded piece of cardboard plus some plastic lenses and adhesive. This one leap has changed perceptions of what is required to get people trying VR. This year, they’ve lowered the bar all the way to the floor with an even simpler cardboard box that unfolds in three steps (compared to 12 steps for the original). We can even get Cardboard headsets printed with artwork or logos and have them mounted to our favorite baseball cap.

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Source: Dodocase.com

Google gets that a headset is just the gateway to the compelling content that we need, so they also announced Jump: a platform to tether 16 digital cameras in a fixed circular array to take 360-degree image and video captures, plus an image assembler to stitch all 16 images together with edge translation, color correction, and blur removal. Suddenly, we no longer need $100K specialized cameras, we only need 16 GoPro Hero cameras mounted just so, and we need Google’s Jump Assembler to put it all together. But, what we’ll get are YouTube-ready, 3D videos that are tailor-made for viewing with – you guessed it – a Cardboard headset. Expect Jump content to appear on YouTube in July, but the camera arrays won’t be publicly available for several months.

Google further announced that the Cardboard app is now available on iOS (get it here), so the other half can see what all the fun is about, too.

And if that weren’t enough, Google announced Cardboard Expeditions: an in-classroom VR experience to give students a view of a location or experience in a controlled setting where the instructor guides the experience. An Expedition pack will include multiple Cardboard headsets and accompanying phones, and a tablet synchronized to the phones that will allow teachers to control the virtual outings.

Look for the updated YouTube app to support VR content soon, and cardboard headsets to be all over your local Starbucks.

2015 SXSW Interactive: 5 Things That Stood Out

Written by: Jake Schneider
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Thanksgiving, SXSW, Halloween.

Those are my favorite holidays, in that order. 2015 marks my 9th year attending the annual conference and as TMA’s resident Austinite, nothing excites me more than hearing the words “Film,” “Interactive,” and “Music” categorized under one event within walking distance of my downtown home.

In years past, I’ve seen the transformative launch of Twitter, watched Kanye perform at the Power Plant – now home to Under Armour Connected Fitness – and taken in many great films and parties.

Last year, while there were still significant highlights like Edward Snowden’s session that I found fascinating, the 2014 version felt bloated and unmanageable.

2015, however, felt like a shift or transition probably aided by the fact that there wasn’t one super strong theme that overpowered everything. This led me to be open to the serendipity that is part of the very soul of SXSW.

With that, here are five things that stood out for me at this year’s conference:

1. Meerkat: If there was a clear winner for 2015 SXSWi, it would be Meerkat. Every single human being at badge pick-up was talking about and using the app that allows you to live stream video directly into Twitter.

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Meerkat was everywhere around Austin. It felt like SXSW activities and experiences were being streamed all over the place.

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Then somehow (perhaps through the Force), Twitter felt the surge of usage and, in realizing they recently purchased a competitive app called Periscope, put Meerkat in a chokehold by cutting its access to their social graph.

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The significance of Meerkat’s emergence this past week is that streaming content is here and it is embraced. This type of channel opens up doors to publishing experiences and helping users and brands become their own networks.

2. Verizon’s #ATXunite: For those Austinites who attend SXSW, the experience is amazing. For those who don’t, it can be downright frustrating, or so I’ve heard. There are three things we love to complain about in Austin: traffic, crowds, and traffic. Verizon took a different route this year with #ATXunite, a social campaign focusing on aiding Austin locals with survival kits featuring everything from Yeti coolers, Bose ear buds, and Philips Hue light bulbs to exclusive lunch experiences at Franklin BBQ just by following and tweeting Verizon and #ATXunite.

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Verizon nailed it with this activation by bringing the serendipitous experience of SXSW to those locals who can’t or don’t attend. Or, in this case, by bringing it to me and my coworker, Zane.

3. Virtual Reality: We are so close. You remember that part in Jamiroquai’s video for Virtual Insanity where Jay Kay, after spending so much time getting further away from the frame, comes as close as possible and stays there to finish the video? That is where I feel we are right now. So close, and from here it is all mainstream. SXSW definitely had its share of VR experiences and installations. From Interstellar’s setup for their Blu-ray release to Google’s Cardboard viewer, VR showed it is ready and the demand showed that we are ready for VR.

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I am, in fact, giddy at the possibilities that VR presents for brand experiences in the entertainment, automotive, fashion, and retail industries.

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There is demand – as you can already pick up Google Cardboard on Ebay.

4. Big Data and Social: Finally Big Data, you have arrived. There were tons of panels on utilizing and the importance of Big Data this year, and rightfully so. Big Data is no longer a nice-to-have, it is a need-to-have. Understanding your audience and gaining that competitive advantage has never been more important to brands. How to make it actionable, how it and Audience Intelligence can work together, how to use it to drive engagement – it was all on display during SXSWi. Audience Intelligence platform People Pattern even made a cool persona infographic on SXSW:3.23-7

5. Curiosity: There were plenty of speakers on hand this year, and the two that stood out most for me both focused on the value of curiosity. The first speaker was TV & Film Producer Brian Grazer, who created Imagine Entertainment with Ron Howard and has created exceptional films like “Backdraft” and “Apollo 13.” Grazer was discussing his book written about his life philosophy of having “curiosity conversations” with different and interesting people every two weeks. He uses these conversations to guide and inspire his work and build relationships.

The second was with Henry Rollins. I’ll be honest: Rollins is a personal inspiration of mine – I was initially just happy to be in the room. He was there attending and promoting his new film, “He Never Died.” Rollins covered his life travels and experiences; however, the gravy was poured when he talked about his life philosophy of how anger fuels his curiosity. The anger is what makes him curious, and the curiosity, in turn, fuels the anger. The result, he states, “makes me want to do stuff and live vigorously.”  I left both of those talks inspired.

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I clearly had better seats for Grazer than Rollins.

SXSW has been a great success for me. For anyone that is considering a future trip, I would highly encourage it. There is something for everyone. You’ll leave here more knowledgeable and inspired.

Follow Jake Schneider @jakeschneider

Extending Virtual Reality at SXSW 2015

Written by: Tom Edwards
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Another year, another SXSW Interactive is in the books. Each year I look to get inspired, reconnect with publishers and 3rd party partners and look for new or incremental innovation that can add value for my clients. This year, one of the areas that caught my attention was the advancement of 3rd party integration and applications tied to virtual reality experiences.

In 2014, one SXSW exhibit in particular received a lot of attention for creating an immersive Virtual Reality Game of Thrones experience courtesy of Oculus Rift. 2015 did have its share of branded experiences tied to Oculus, see Samsung below, but a majority of 3rd parties were focused on showcasing how they create value through integrating VR and mobile devices as they prepare to go to market.

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Samsung – I had the opportunity to experience the Samsung Gear VR headset while at SXSW. The Samsung Gear VR is powered by an Oculus Rift headset that integrates with the Galaxy Note 4. The approach of serving as an extension of an existing device that can scale through various media and applications is the right approach to allow optimal personalization of experiences through devices and media entities that consumers already consume.

The #GalaxyLife VR exhibit was a rich experience that I definitely enjoyed. My tour featured a Mountain Dew branded snowboarding adventure. There are pros and cons to the experience as it was immersive, although the audio was a bit lacking. If you have not tried the core Oculus Rift experience and this was your first foray into VR it is an impressive experience. For the average consumer, consuming media, be it VR cinema, gaming or 360-degree experiences can all be achieved through the Samsung Gear headset.

This type of VR experience is ideal for branded integrations as the experiences are tied to the mobile device and with the right SDK, it is possible to extend immersive content experiences through the Samsung Gear VR.

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Google – One of the more unique takes on a similar premise to the Samsung Gear VR came from Google. Google Cardboard is a simple, inexpensive way to enjoy VR-based experiences through either Android or iPhone devices. When the Google team handed me the device, it was about the size of an iPad Mini. After a few minutes of folding I had an instant VR viewer that I could view media from VRSE or other Google Cardboard supported applications.

As with most things Google, there are Android and Unity SDK’s available to easily integrate Cardboard into existing VR applications to ensure that it is supported. The experience is surprisingly rich and the fact that it is inexpensive and also supports iPhone VR applications is a plus. Google Cardboard is a great tool to introduce younger audiences to enhanced VR experiences. It definitely passed the test with my crew of 12, 10 and 7 years of age. And with the simple design, I am not concerned about how they would handle the device.

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Intel and 3rd Parties – The SXSW Gaming Pavilion featured multiple extensions of the Oculus hardware with various groups working to create new integrations that could bridge the gap between traditional gaming and VR. Intel and CybertronPC showcased one of CybertronPC’s gaming rigs that supported an Oculus experience. This experience drew quite a crowd as onlookers wanted to catch a glimpse of PC gaming + Oculus.

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Another 3rd party that caught my attention was Sixense’s STEM System. This was a Full-Body Presence VR system vs. just an Oculus Visual experience. The system provides motion controls, haptic feedback and additional spatial awareness in the VR experience to create a full-body controlled experience in game. The demo featured a lightsaber duel, think Microsoft Kinect in terms of open-space, body-controlled motion but with a fully immersive Oculus Rift visual experience.

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We are inching closer to mass consumer availability and I have been impressed how much has been developed within a single year. I still have my doubts as to whether or not Facebook’s Oculus Rift based experiences as they exist today will appeal to the mainstream consumer. We are still at the nascent stage of the technology and I do believe that augmented, virtual reality and digital overlays will become a part of our lives as some point in the next 10 years – it just may not be a bulky headset, it may be something as simple as a bionic contact lens.

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I definitely enjoyed playing with the new hardware and look forward to what the future may bring at SXSW 2016.

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360