The latest Android N Developer Preview contains references to a ‘virtual reality mode’

ny times daily 360 google cardboard
Bizoon/123RF
Google dipped a tentative toe in virtual reality hardware with Cardboard, its low-cost viewer for smartphones, but never really shipped the software to match. Setting up videos and apps made for Cardboard as a result can be cumbersome, in most cases requiring that you launch the experiences out of the viewer, on your phone’s touchscreen, before strapping Cardboard to your face.

But if some unfinished code in Android is any indication, virtual reality on mobile is about to become a lot more immersive: the recently updated Android N Developer Preview contains references to a “VR mode,” plus new developer hooks for managing 360-degree interfaces.

The references to virtual reality in the Android Developer Preview were spotted by Ars Technica, and point to a system for games and apps that tap into VR. A new service, “VR Listener,” appears to provide a way for developers to register their VR apps with Android. Users will be notified when they do so, and will have the choice of either permitting or denying requests on a per-app basis. Apps that successfully register will “be able to run when you are using applications in virtual reality mode,” according to code in a new settings screen within Android’s Special Access menu (Settings > Apps > Configure Apps > Special Access).

If you find that last bit about “virtual reality mode” a tad perplexing, you’re not the only one — it appears to be the first official mention of any sort of virtual reality mode for Android. And beyond that solitary reference, the code gives no clue as to what “virtual reality mode” might comprise.

Though it may not be clear what form Android’s “virtual reality mode” might take, an interface a la Samsung’s Gear VR homescreen or Valve’s SteamVR isn’t out of the question. Android lacks any sort of native launcher for VR apps, after all, and rumors persist that the company is developing new hardware to leverage the burgeoning field of virtual reality. According to the Wall Street Journal, The Information, and the Financial Times, Google plans to release a more advanced version of Cardboard — one with “chips and sensors” — later this year, and separately is developing a standalone headset that packs motion-sensing positional cameras and doesn’t rely on a smartphone.

A virtual reality mode might also help unify the Android experience across headsets, too. Smartphone viewers are cheap and ubiquitous, true, but they have a major drawback: the lack of a cohesive interface. The addition of a headset-agnostic virtual reality mode — a mode that’d look and behave the same no matter which viewer you chose to use — would be a boon for usability.

Mobile

OnePlus 6T vs. Honor View 20: We compare the cameras in these ‘flagship killers’

For less than $600, you can buy either the OnePlus 6T or the Honor View 20, two extremely capable smartphones with plenty of exciting features. But which one has the best camera? We found out on a recent trip to France.
Emerging Tech

How can digital art created on obsolete platforms be preserved?

As the lines between art and technology continue to blur, digital art experiences become more commonplace. But these developments are raising an important question for art conservationists: How should digital artworks be preserved?
Virtual Reality

Getting into VR is spendy. Which headset is truly worth your hard-earned cash?

Virtual reality has finally gone mainstream, but how do you find the best VR headset for you? Check out a few of our favorites, whether you want the best of the best or a budget alternative for your mobile device.
Computing

Opera web browser targets enhanced accessibility with major redesign

The browser wars are heating up. In the latest move for Opera, a new development release pushes it even closer to Chrome with a redesign and overall goal of redefining the modern web browser. 
Computing

File Transfer Protocol explained: What FTP is and what it does

FTP stands for "File Transfer Protocol," and it's used to transfer files online. Most internet users don't need it, but web developers use it constantly. Here's what FTP is, how it works, and how you can get started using it.
Mobile

Save space on your iPhone by turning off Live Photos in the camera app

If you want to save storage space on your iPhone or reduce the size of your backup for iCloud, then you should think about turning off Live Photos in the camera app. Find out exactly how to do it with our easy guide.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Grow veggies indoors and shower more efficiently

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Mobile

The best Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus cases to keep your titanic phone safe

The new Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus is a gorgeous device, with one of the best dual-lens cameras we've ever seen. Keep your titanic device safe and scratch-free with the best Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus cases.
Deals

Amazon slashes prices on Fitbit Versa smartwatches for Presidents’ Day

Amazon is offering a solid $30 discount on this great fitness tracking smartwatch right now. So if you're looking for a wearable that can help you track steps, sleep, and activity, now is a great time to pick one up for less.
Mobile

How to perform a reverse image search in Android or iOS

You can quickly use Google to search, and reverse search, images on a PC or laptop, but did you know it's almost as easy to do in Android and iOS? We explain how to do it here, whether you want to use Chrome or a third-party app.
Mobile

The best Honor View 20 cases to keep your midrange beauty intact

With power to rival flagships, great looks, and a stunning camera, the Honor View 20 is an excellent phone -- but it still needs protection from hazards. Here are some of the best Honor View 20 cases.
Mobile

Be careful who you bokeh, jokes Apple’s latest iPhone ad

With iPhone sales under pressure, you'd think there wouldn't be much to laugh about at Apple HQ. But the company has seen fit to inject some humor into its latest handset ad, which highlights the camera's Depth Control feature.
Mobile

Samsung's Unpacked draws near. Here's what we know about the Galaxy S10 so far

It won't be long now. With 2019 underway, the Samsung Galaxy S10 is almost here. Before it arrives, here's absolutely everything you need to know about all three of Samsung's next flagships.
Mobile

Gorilla Glass 6 will cover the Xiaomi Mi 9's AMOLED screen

Xiaomi's next major smartphone release will be the Mi 9, and the company hasn't held back in giving us a good look at the phone, revealing the design, the camera, and a stunning color.