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Move Over, Google Glass: Here Comes Google Cardboard

Rob Pegoraro
·Contributing Editor
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(Rafe Needleman/Yahoo Tech)

SAN FRANCISCO — One of the giveaways offered to attendees of Google’s I/O conference Wednesday was a shiny new, as-yet-unreleased Android Wear smartwatch. The other was a thin cardboard box. 

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Huh?

That box, when opened, revealed a carefully cut and labeled piece of corrugated cardboard with printed instructions on how to fold it into something that looked like a homemade View-Master. But instead of inserting a slide, you insert an Android phone, turning that View-Master into homemade virtual reality goggles. 

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I tucked my Nexus 4 into this thing, and an NFC tag opened its Chrome browser to a special page made by Google. I held the headset up to my eyes, and I was looking at a 3D interactive panorama, shot from the middle of Powell Street next to Union Square here. 

As I looked right, left, up, or down, the view of the street moved accordingly, with the slight offset between the views provided to my left and right eyes generating a small 3D effect. The result is like an Oculus Rift headset, but without the $350 cost.

So: kinda cool.

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Google’s Cardboard page suggested trying an Android app that allows a little more interactivity — apparently tapping a metal ring on the outside of this cardboard assemblage generates enough of a magnetic disturbance to be sensed by a phone’s magnetometer — but the chronically poor bandwidth here did not allow me to download that 188-megabyte title.

An FAQ on that page explains that Cardboard started as an experiment in making virtual reality a cheaper proposition, discusses phone software and hardware requirements, and offers tips about making your own Google Cardboard.

It closes with this helpful bit of advice: “Can I use a pizza box for the cardboard? Yes. Make sure you order an extra large.”

Email Rob at rob@robpegoraro.com; follow him on Twitter at @robpegoraro.