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 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.
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.
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.