Google’s big hardware event happened yesterday, which saw the announcement of the Pixel 4, Pixelbook Go, Nest Wi-Fi, Nest Home Mini, and new Pixel Buds. While the “Made by Google 2019” event was going on, Google was quietly shutting down enough products that it could have also held a mini “Killed by Google 2019” event that same day.
Pour one out for the Google Daydream VR headset and the Google Clips camera.
Google Daydream now sleeps forever
Google Daydream View launched in 2016 and was Google’s swing at proper phone-based virtual reality. Like the Samsung and Oculus collaboration Gear VR, the Daydream View was a cheap, light, “dumb” headset that featured VR lenses and little else. You slotted a smartphone into the front, and the phone switched to a VR mode, rendering a stereoscopic image that was blasted into your eyeballs through the lenses. You already have an expensive smartphone, so why not dip your toe in the VR waters with a cheap $100 headset.
Google originally experimented with phone-based VR with Google Cardboard, but the Daydream View added key features, like a head strap, a controller, and a material that wasn’t literal garbage. Unlike Cardboard, Daydream made it so you’d actually want to stay in VR for more than 5 minutes. There was even a second-generation Daydream View headset released in 2017.
The Daydream View, and it seems like Google’s VR phone ambitions in general, are dead. Not only is the Daydream View no longer for sale in Google’s Store, but the Pixel 4 isn’t compatible with Daydream headsets. Daydream support has mostly died in the Android ecosystem, too. Despite support from Samsung, LG, Motorola, Asus, and Huawei, Daydream support is no longer included on current flagships. Ironically, the Pixel 4’s 90Hz display would have offered one of the best phone VR experiences available, as a higher frame rate would have been significantly more comfortable than the 60Hz or 72Hz that most phone displays run at in VR mode. Oculus and Valve both recommend at least 90 frames per second for comfortable VR.
In a statement to Engadget, Google gave a post-mortem on the project.
We saw a lot of potential in smartphone VR—being able to use the smartphone you carry with you everywhere to power an immersive on-the-go experience. But over time we noticed some clear limitations constraining smartphone VR from being a viable long-term solution. Most notably, asking people to put their phone in a headset and lose access to the apps they use throughout the day causes immense friction.
There also hasn’t been the broad consumer or developer adoption we had hoped, and we’ve seen decreasing usage over time of the Daydream View headset. So while we are no longer selling Daydream View or supporting Daydream on Pixel 4, the Daydream app and store will remain available for existing users.
We’re investing heavily in helpful AR experiences like Google Lens, AR walking navigation in Maps, and AR in Search that use the smartphone camera to bridge the digital and physical worlds, helping people do more with what they see and learn about the world around them.
With Google quitting the market, phone-based VR is essentially dead. Samsung and Oculus quit supporting the Gear VR with new devices, too, choosing instead to focus on standalone headsets that basically take all those phone parts and make them a permanent part of the headset.
Google shutters Google Clips
Google Clips has been removed from the Google Store, marking the quiet death of one of Google’s more head-scratching product releases over the years. Clips was an action camera that… took pictures for you? It didn’t have a viewfinder—you just set it up somewhere and relied on “AI” to decide what moments were important enough to take pictures of. Did we mention it was two hundred and fifty dollars? It was two hundred and fifty dollars.
The device was panned in reviews for poor image quality and for not recording sound for its video clips. I can’t imagine using it for a genuinely important event without being filled with picture anxiety. Is this thing actually working? Will it really capture this one important moment? I also don’t get the idea here: if you think an auto-recording camera is valuable, why not just write a smartphone app?
Google Clips was just one of those schadenfreudian products that seems like a bad idea on paper, seemed like a bad idea when it was announced, was poorly reviewed, and then flopped in the market. It’s the definition of a DOA product that will not be missed.
Google frequently dips its toes into new markets, and while it’s easy to declare that the juggernaut of a company will dominate any new market it chooses to step into, more often than not, that just isn’t the case. It’s far more likely that the company either goes to market with an unpopular idea or just loses interest in something that but not popular enough for a company that is used to having billions, not millions, of users.
Google’s frequent product shutdowns make any new Google product tough to immediately jump behind when it is unclear just how committed the company is to any new project. The recent lack of confidence in Google’s brand is something the company is having to deal with most recently for Google Stadia, where many users and industry experts openly wonder how long Google will stick it out in the gaming realm.