(Podcast) Material #47: “Removed Your Head In Daydream? No Donuts For You!”

Material #47: “Removed Your Head In Daydream? No Donuts For You!”

Russell, Yasmine and I got to spend an hour talking about Google’s VR plans in general and Daydream in particular, with Google senior designers Manuel Clément and Robbie Tilton. It was a swell opportunity to go beyond the hardware that was demonstrated at I/O and talk about the level of thought that goes into the creation of an entirely new UI.

I’m eager to see how far developers take VR. Gaming is the most obvious application but to me, it’s the least interesting. We recorded the episode over a Skype video call, as usual. Why do we use video chat, when Material is released as audio? It’s because we have a better conversation when we can all see each other and pick up all kinds of little visual cues.

Over the course of the hour I couldn’t help but think about how a VR recording session would be even better. Even if I were interacting with four VR approximations of flat video screens, the ability to turn to face the person I’m focusing on would root me in the conversation, and it’s also help everyone to feel the direction of the talk as it moves between people.

Oculus Theater kind of blew my mind when I used it for the first time. It’s a simple MP4 video player that inserts the 2D video into the screen of a multiplex-style theater environment, rendered in 3D. It’s way more than a cute little demo. I was watching “1776” in a real theater, which meant that for the first time I got to see it as the filmmakers intended. I’ve seen this movie on video a hundred times but this was the first time I was aware that certain people and actions were meant to be in my peripheral vision as I focused on just one side of the screen.

I’m looking forward to more revelations like that one. The good stuff in VR will come after lots of conversations about how people truly interact with their environment and with each other.

Google Instant. Yup, those are the right two words.

Under slightly different circumstances, I might have been in San Francisco today, attending Google’s big press event. I also might have proven the existence of God. Neither thing seems to have happened.

See, due to a last-minute change in aircraft, my flight home from Chicago was overbooked and American enticed me to give up my seat in exchange for a seat on another flight two hours later and a $400 flight voucher. If they’d actually needed my seat and I found myself holding a free ticket to anywhere I wanted to go, then the invitation from Google that arrived the next day would have felt like the hand of Divine Providence; surely, I would have been thwarting a Higher Power if I’d stayed home.

I’ve skimmed through the Old Testament. I’ve read enough to know that things rarely work out well for the Thwarter.

So: An unexpected free ticket to San Francisco plus an unexpected press event on the other coast in a few days plus a Google event that left me thinking “I have been present at the place and time when it all changed; all of it, for everybody, and forever” would clearly have equaled “Proof of God’s existence.” I think we’re all in agreement, here.

As it was, American Airlines didn’t need my seat. I didn’t go to San Francisco. Instead, I watched the Google event from my sofa, via a live stream. And frankly, Google’s big announcement wasn’t anything that couldn’t have been completely summed up in four paragraphs of text and a link to a live demo.

Which isn’t to say that Google Instant — the big announcement — isn’t great stuff. Go ahead and try it right now: visit Google.com directly and start typing in a search. The Search box tries to predict what you’re about to search for and pre-populates the page with the most likely results.

Other guesses fill a dropdown list. If the right answer is on the list, just arrow down and the page will interactively repopulate to reflect each set of results. Or keep typing.

It’s very good. You can eyeball the search results as you type, stopping when you see the information you want. Two seconds after you try it, you’ll appreciate what a timesaver this will be.

Final tech details: Instant works with Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Explorer 8. Support for mobile devices, and integration into browsers’ built-in Search boxes is coming in the next few months.

I’ve just written four short paragraphs. This, and the command “Go to google.com and see it in action” will truly cover it.

Wait…bonus commentary:

The event ends with a Bob Dylan-themed commercial for Google Instant. Which left me wondering why they were taking such an Apple-ish approach to this. Apple saturates the airwaves with iPad ads because they want to sell iPads. Why does Google even care?

I think part of it is the fact that search boxes within browsers are steering people away from the Google search page. Google isn’t thought of as a product built by a company but as a service or a standard, like HTML5 or yelling “*@&# you, you *@&#ing mother*@&#er!!!!” to get a computer to unfreeze. Features that get users to see the Google logo at the top of a page will benefit the company; it prevents Google from becoming “Band-Aid”ed or “Q-Tip”ped, where their software loses value in the popular consciousness.

Okay. End of aside. Done.

So you see what I mean about the God question. Seen one way, this was just a random sequence of events. Seen another way, God wasn’t about to prevent me from flying to San Francisco today but in His divine wisdom He knew that His aid would be better applied elsewhere.

Call this one a theological tie. It’s an
interesting data point, but hardly enough to justify renting a bulldozer and pulling down the famous giant bronze statue of Richard Dawkins that glares smugly down to thousands of commuters from its plinth in Victoria Station.