Google’s developer conference this year did a lot to temper expectations around its work on virtual and augmented reality.
The company announced a yet-to-ship new virtual reality headset, and you can now watch YouTube’s VR videos in the same virtual space with other users. There’s also Google’s new visual positioning service for indoor mapping. These developments are interesting, but feel incremental.
Even the executive in charge of these efforts, Clay Bavor, on Wednesday penned a Medium post telling readers not to get too anxious in their anticipation for a killer app.
“We’re already at a point where millions of people are beginning to enjoy some of what these new developments can offer, but it’s early days,” he said, using a phrase popular with Google executives trying to rein in expectations.
He called the technologies, which he refers to together as “immersive computing,” as “nascent.” He drew an analogy to the first mobile phones that appeared in the ’80s, decades before smartphones as we know them.
Bavor’s post could be read as defensive. It has the effect of minimizing VR and AR at Google, something counterintuitive for a company that prides itself on creating billion-user apps across disciplines. Minimization seems especially counterintuitive when competitor Facebook has been pretty loud about its own VR efforts, between social VR demonstrations and the high-end Oculus headset.
But that’s not all that’s going on here. His framing is in line with Google’s overarching “AI first” narrative, where the boundaries between individual apps and pieces of hardware are fuzzy and everything feeds into one Google that is everywhere.