(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.
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.
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.
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.”