Google Cardboard started off as just a toy, but a recent internal move could be another sign of bigger virtual reality ambitions.
Jon Wiley, who previously headed design for Google Search, is now the principal designer for Google Cardboard and VR. As Fast Company notes, Wiley's work on Search included the informational "cards" that appear for common terms such as weather and cities. He has emphasized the notions of simple and useful experiences, and Fast Company speculates that Google may want to bring those ideas to virtual reality interfaces.
This isn't the first indication that Google is getting serious about virtual reality. In March, an unconfirmed Wall Street Journal report claimed that Google had hired "tens of engineers" to turn Android into "an operating system for virtual reality." Similar to how Android works for phones and tablets, the VR version would reportedly let hardware makers enter the market without having to build their own software and app platform.
For now, however, Google's take on virtual reality is a mere diversion. With Google Cardboard, users can slide a smartphone into a cheap cardboard headset with a pair of attached lenses, and try out a handful of apps from the Google Play Store. While the experience makes for amusing demos, it doesn't offer any ideas on what a virtual reality interface should look like, or what the best way to interact with it might be. It sounds like Google is trying to tackle those questions in earnest now.
The story behind the story: Over the last year, virtual reality has transformed from a geeky obsession into the makings of a big business. Facebook's Oculus VR is full-steam ahead for a commercial product launch next year, while Valve and HTC are collaborating on their own VR headset with hopes of launching this holiday season. Sony, meanwhile, is planning to sell its Project Morpheus headset in the first half of next year. These developments could be just the motivation Google needs to get its own VR game plan in order.