Cardboard won’t beat Facebook but will make tons of money

Google Cardboard
For $10, Cardboard turns any smartphone into a VR headset. Image via Wikimedia Commons

A successful company can be built on Cardboard. At least that’s the thinking at Google, which is has created a virtual reality (VR) computing division.

The company has just tasked Clay Bavor, the executive formerly running its product management team, to run the new arm. He is now vice president of Virtual Reality at Google, Reuters reports.

Speculation in the techiverse has centred around how this is simply Google’s latest salvo in the war against Facebook, which has begun accepting pre-orders for its long-awaited Rift virtual reality headset. (Facebook bought Oculus in 2014).

Cardboard revenue

But there could be a deeper strategy at work. In recent years, the smartphone has become the single gadget for everything for many consumers. We now use one device to send work emails, talk to our families, boast about new experiences, watch movies, play games, read books and schedule our lives.

Why should it be any different for virtual reality experiences? It seems Google is simply betting on our desire for this techno-Zen life and sees smartphones as the route to largescale VR adoption – and consequently greater advertising revenues for itself.

First of all, there’s almost no barrier to entry. At $10 (Dh36.7), Cardboard turns your phone into a VR headset. That makes it cheap entertainment at the price of a movie ticket – but the experience lasts much longer. So that’s more ads for Google on yet another platform.

Even better, as of March last year, Google has been loading VR content onto Youtube, accessible to anyone with Cardboard (but not available on HTC Vive or Oculus headsets). Even more ads.

Finally, for companies such as Verizon, the device is easy to brand and give away as a promotional gimmick – with nary a dent in its marketing budget. The telecoms major distributed Star Wars-branded sets in December, ahead of the cinematic release of The Force Awakens. Another moneymaker.

We’ll all soon find out how Bavor and his team are building on Cardboard’s inherent strengths. But the new appointment means one thing: Cardboard isn’t going away. Neither is Oculus, no matter how many letters Google writes to Santa.

Certainly, there’s room (and money in the market) for both Cardboard and Rift. As there is for Topshop and Louis Vuitton, or Google and Facebook.

We’ll be on the couch, watching this space.