Google rolled out Daydream VR for Android phones in 2016, right at the height of the virtual reality frenzy. Google hoped everyone would use their Android phones to consumer VR content, but as Google sometimes does, it ignored the project when it didn’t immediately take off. Now, Google has officially thrown in the towel — Daydream won’t be supported on Android devices going forward.
According to Google, it won’t support Daydream on Android 11 and later. If you have a Daydream headset and a phone that supports it, you might be able to keep using it even if you get an update to Android 11. However, the app may not work correctly, and no one is ever going to fix it. Likewise, you won’t see any new content for Daydream. Third-party developers are free to make Daydream content if they want, but Google no longer sells the headsets.
Google’s VR ambitions didn’t start with the Daydream VR system. That honor goes to Cardboard, which was literally a piece of cardboard that you could fold into a VR headset for your phone. People seemed to like the novelty of Cardboard, which was good enough to watch a quick video or explore Google Maps Street View. The move to Daydream required device makers to opt-in, and the headset was much more expensive.
As we are learning from dedicated VR systems, you need very particular screen technology to make VR pleasant. Companies like Oculus and Valve are pushing the pixel density far beyond smartphone levels, and high refresh rates are a must. While it’s possible to make smartphones with similar screen technologies, it would be a huge waste when most people will never put their phones in a VR headset. Rendering VR content is also hard on a phone’s hardware — it was not uncommon for Daydream to cause a phone to lag and drop frames after just a few minutes due to processor throttling.
Google was not the first to push mobile VR — Samsung started that with Gear VR a few years before. At the time, everyone figured we might as well use these powerful little pocket computers with their high-resolution displays to run VR content. It makes sense in theory, but the reality never caught on. Samsung stopped supporting Gear VR on new phones late last year, and it discontinued the service recently. Gear VR actually had a following and access to Oculus VR content. Daydream didn’t even have that, so it’s not terribly surprising that it’s going away.
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