- Google and Imax have stopped work on a joint virtual reality (VR) camera project that began two years ago, an unnamed source told Variety. A Google spokesperson declined to comment on the partnership, while Imax said work on the project was "paused."
- Imax started a pilot program for location-based VR in early 2017, opening seven VR centers in big cities worldwide, the publication reported. The company recently closed two of those centers and plans to decide the future of the remaining five locations within the next few months.
- The decision to discontinue the VR camera development was made by Google, according to Variety. Google pulled the plug on the project late last year as part of an apparent shift of focus on augmented reality (AR).
It's not entirely surprising that Google and Imax would end development of a VR camera as Google has faced higher priorities in developing AR and mobile technology. The search giant's Android mobile OS last year saw another threat from Apple after the iPhone maker rolled out ARKit to help companies more easily create AR-enabled apps. Apple CEO Tim Cook has repeatedly touted Apple's AR tech in the past year. Google responded by abandoning its Tango AR platform and releasing ARCore to help Android developers design AR apps, in the tech giant's initial steps of prioritizing AR. Tango didn't gain much traction as device makers mostly shunned the idea of designing smartphones that required extra hardware to function. As Apple has demonstrated, AR technology typically depends on the camera of a smartphone, which virtually all adults in the U.S. own, unlike the pricey headsets required of VR.
Like many tech companies, Google has had to shift priorities as market conditions changed. The partnership with Imax two years ago had promised to develop a fancy VR camera that professional filmmakers could use to create high-quality 3D 360-degree content, per an Imax statement. Before partnering with Imax, Google had worked with GoPro and Chinese camera maker Yi on a VR camera. That collaboration has culminated in the production of the Yi Halo, a $20,000 VR camera that uses 17 individual cameras to capture 3D VR footage for viewers. While the Imax deal is canceled, Google still shows signs of continuing to work on VR camera tech. Last week, its researchers flaunted advanced photo and video tech at a conference in Vancouver.
For years, the tech and entertainment industries have hyped up VR as an entirely immersive experience, only to be mostly disappointed by a consumer market that isn't yet ready for headsets and haptic devices that don't have enough compelling content to match their high prices. AR upstaged VR in the past few years as smartphones could more readily offer AR experiences through devices already in the hands of hundreds of millions of people. That widespread accessibility helped mobile game Pokemon Go become a cultural phenomenon in 2016 and popularize AR. Since then, Snapchat's face filters and the beauty industry's use of digital overlays to demonstrate cosmetics and hair color have so far been some of the most popular uses of the mobile tech.