App of the Week: Google Cardboard

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Title: Cardboard
Platform: Android and iOS
Cost: Free

It’s more than a high-tech Viewmaster. Google Cardboard that takes advantage of the gyroscope in your phone to replicate 365 degree, stereoscopic viewing. Cardboard itself is an app which helps you get started, calibrate your device, and learn to manipulate the navigation and controls. A whole stable of apps and games build upon the Cardboard concept, but the populist VR trend is so new that the content is very uneven. Even in Google’s demo, the international capitals captured through Street View pale next to the underwater landscape of the Great Barrier Reef.

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Google Cardboard is truly low-barrier. It works as well with Android as with iOS, so more students can use it, manufactured Cardboard cases are inexpensive and you can download a kit to create your own headset.

Some of the apps viewed through the Cardboard headset offer the most generational kinesthetic gaming improvement since the Wii. I use Cardboard to play Debris Defrag, what is essentially an immersive version of Asteroids that makes having a space gun seem absolutely fantastic. The virtual reality experience itself is leaps and bounds beyond holding your phone at arm’s length to view a HistoryPin photo screen or an Aurasma layer.

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All those online video watchers can use Cardboard as another wrinkle to their experience. I spent a lot of time looking at standard video through Cardboard Viewers, but it was kind of like watching 2D television on a 3D television set, the effect was minimal. It seems to work more as a way to experience high concept video and games that others have created. I had a much better experience exploring the products posted by savvy marketers capitalizing on the nature of the medium. The North Face has a fun video. For teens waiting on the Oculus Rift, Cardboard is a fun stopgap.

Our App of the Week Archive features more great apps. Got a suggestion for App of the Week? Let us know.

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