One for the Graveyard: Google Discontinues Daydream VR

 

Toss another body on the burn pile. During the same event in which it launched the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL, Google killed off the Daydream VR platform. Neither of the new devices is compatible with the Daydream VR and Google stopped selling the Daydream View today. According to Google, Daydream VR failed to catch on with consumers, as has smartphone VR in general.

To be honest, the writing has been on the wall for Daydream for quite some time. The Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL don’t support it, Hulu dropped support last month, and Google shut down both the Spotlight Stories VR studio and the Daydream Play Movies application earlier this year. It also shut down Jump VR in June. Daydream was less than a month from its third birthday.

Google-Daydream

Google has released a statement to explain its reasoning. It reads, in part:

[A]sking people to put their phone in a headset and lose access to the apps they use throughout the day causes immense friction.

There also hasn’t been the broad consumer or developer adoption we had hoped, and we’ve seen decreasing usage over time of the Daydream View headset. So while we are no longer selling Daydream View or supporting Daydream on Pixel 4, the Daydream app and store will remain available for existing users.

Google claims to be investing heavily in AR experiences, including Google Lens, AR walking navigation via Maps, and AR in search. The company’s experiment in smartphone VR, however, is effectively over. The impact of the cancellation is expected to be small, but phone VR is apparently a dead idea in the industry.

Issues like this, however, are why I’m dubious of Google’s Stadia service. It’s not just the usual question of whether Google can deliver smooth, low-latency gameplay to your door without local hardware. That’s a very genuine question and a tough problem, but it’s no different from the question of whether Nvidia, Sony, or Microsoft can do the same thing. The question of whether or not remote gaming services work in any specific location is significantly controlled by one’s distance from the data center and the speed and quality of your connection.

The distinguishing problem that sets Stadia apart from a service offered by Sony, Microsoft, or Nvidia is whether Google will charge you full price for AAA games and then kill the service less than three years later. When you are attempting to bring an entirely new way of playing games to market, three years is not a particularly long time.

This is, in fact, precisely the problem. No one would dispute that Google has the right to kill a product for any reason. No one would argue that Google has some kind of obligation to keep a money-losing product open or available. The question is, do users think Google is willing to invest in a product over the long term to improve its capabilities and desirability rather than kicking a few versions out the door and then killing it if a user-base doesn’t emerge? Historically, the answer has been “No.” Products — including extremely popular products that are used by millions of people daily, like Google Hangouts — just get axed. (Google Hangout’s death has been postponed, but not canceled).

Even Google+, the much-maligned social network, didn’t evolve so much as it metastasized. Google’s big idea for how to grow the service, back when G+ was up and running, was to make using it mandatory and to enforce a single social identity across its various websites and properties. When forcing people to use its social network failed, Google quit.

I wouldn’t bet it won’t quit again.

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