Facebook using Apple’s playbook for virtual reality. Google is using Google’s.

Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for New York Times


Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for New York Times

At Google’s big I/O developer show next week, expect plenty of virtual reality buzz. If you’re there, you might get to take a treat home.

Sources confirmed that the company will be unmasking new VR features for its Android software and a spruced-up version of its cheap Cardboard VR viewing headset, as the Financial Times first reported. Other reports suggest Google is set to deliver a standalone headset — untethered to a smartphone or computer — that competes with manufacturers like Samsung and HTC and solves several nagging issues with the technology.

What those devices look like, how much they cost and whether Google will give them away next week is all TBD. (Google is staying mum before its conference.)

What is becoming clear is the search giant’s unique approach to the nascent media — and the way that is distinct from the strategy of its chief rival, Facebook. Two years after buying Oculus, Facebook has made the gaming company, which produces two VR headsets, the tentpole for its operations.

For a while, Google looked behind the curve. The company quietly assembled an internal team, but only turned it into a division earlier this year. Its strategy is largely built around leveraging its Android operating system and replicating it — ensuring that as many people making or viewing VR are using Google’s tools and platforms as possible.

It’s a bottoms-up approach, but one that could be central as Google looks to shift its biggest parts — search, Maps, YouTube — onto VR, if consumers buy into the niche industry. (A big if.) Bloomberg reported that Google is considering using Project Tango, its smartphone depth sensor tool and a pillar of its VR team, within Maps as a business strategy.

“Google has a lot of assets that could become immersive,” said Anthony Batt, co-founder of VR production studio Wevr. “[Google] has a lot to win here and they have more to lose if they blow it off.” (Source: recode)