Awesome Stuff: A New Approach To Smartphone VR

from the portability-maximized dept

Google Cardboard is a wonderful way to make virtual reality more accessible (you can even grab one on sale in the Insider Shop) but it still has its limitations. Today we're looking at a new twist on smartphone-powered VR: the Figment phone case with built-in viewer.

The Good

The main limitation to Cardboard-style VR rigs is that they simply aren't as powerful, immersive or responsive as headgear like the Oculus Rift — but in exchange they are affordable and mobile, with the potential to make VR (and its cousin, augmented reality) a bigger part of everyday life. However, if there's one thing that holds them back from fulfilling that potential, it's that they are bulky and somewhat ugly — portable, but not convenient enough to carry with you everywhere, and not something you can leave permanently attached to your smartphone. The Figment offers a new approach: it foregoes the boxy enclosure and embeds the most critical part — the lenses — directly into an iPhone case. The eyepiece sits flush with the back of the phone until you flip it out, at which point an aluminum arm holds the lenses in place at VR viewing distance, immediately bringing a 360-degree 3D video or an augmented reality layer to life.

Putting the lenses so close at hand unlocks the power of this type of lightweight VR as both a tool and a more common way to consume content. Setting up your Cardboard rig to check out a 3D YouTube video is a bit of a hassle that you'll only commit to on occasion; but flipping an eyepiece out of your phone hardly adds any barrier at all, and suddenly you might find yourself opening up such content on a whim.

The Bad

Obviously, the lack of a full enclosure means the Figment doesn't deliver a fully-immersive experience, and may be more suited to AR than VR on the whole. But that's a sensible sacrifice in service of the goal of portability and convenience — if and when it moves past the other key issue of only currently being available for iPhones, and as the price of full headset rigs comes down, Cardboard may start to look like an unnecessary middle ground: not as convenient as the Figment, not as immersive as the Rift.

The Content

Whether you've got a Rift or a Cardboard, or plan to get a Figment, you'll need content to enjoy. With VR becoming more widespread, a growing number of creators are working to harness its unique capabilities, and there's another Kickstarter project underway that's worth checking out: Blackout, "a virtual glimpse into the lives of strangers". It's an original virtual reality documentary based on the idea of reading the minds of fellow commuters on a stalled subway train, in which you can look around and hear thoughts based on actual interviews with real people from around the world. This sort of experimentation is what makes a new medium like VR truly exciting, so be sure to check it out.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Nov 2015 @ 10:58am

    A step into the inevitable future

    I once experienced a presentation where the old heavy CRT monitors that I grew up with were replaced with older style, LCD screens. Those were then replaced by Oculas type head mounted displays. Those were then supplanted by see through glasses with HD cameras capturing better imagery than the human eye could see. These again were outdated by virtual retinas type things that paint much higher quality images onto your receptors and use tricks to make you see in better than humanly possible detail.
    These were partially supplanted by direct neural imaging where the brain is no longer doing the heavy lifting in processing and instead just gets final feeds from computer interfaces.
    I was completely entranced by these words and images that I was seeing in my head and almost missed when the presenter slipped in that she was my daughter from the future...

    Scientists have always wondered why if time travel were possible, no one has heard from anyone in the future. Well it is no longer true and according to her future self, the first of them was born in 2010.

    Even before that happened, I was interested in VR and AR and hoped to see it grow before I died. Apparently I don't get to see much of it, or she wouldn't have given me that presentation as an ice breaker.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Woadan (profile), 29 Nov 2015 @ 9:40pm

    It would have been really really nice if you had bothered to tell us up front but this was for the iPhone 6 / 6 s and the + versions only. That way I won't waste time when I don't own one. It's just as much the fault of the project owners because they don't fess that up at the Kickstarter page either, but for f**** sake, you had to have figured it out, and you should have told us.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Leigh Beadon (profile), 29 Nov 2015 @ 9:50pm


      I did say so in the post, and it says "iPhone case" and "your iPhone" many, many times on the Kickstarter page. As an Android user I understand your frustration, but do you understand why a small manufacturer crowdfunding a brand new product can't immediately offer it in a wide variety of models? And either way, don't take it out on me, or pretend they are being deceptive when the word "iPhone" shows up on their page 25 times AND there's a question & answer in the FAQ specifically about other phones.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Leigh Beadon (profile), 29 Nov 2015 @ 9:52pm


      Or... are you just annoyed that I didn't list out all the specific iPhone versions in the post?

      This isn't a sales pitch, it's a post highlighting an interesting product that I think is worth checking out whether or not you're going to buy one.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Nov 2015 @ 9:07am


      By now you should just expect that any mobile-related accessory on kickstarter is going to be iPhone only, unless it has Android in the title. iPhone is easier to work on due to it being a large market share of a single form factor. Only if you're lucky some projects will make a 2nd version compatible with the latest Samsung model.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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