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Google Adds Design Oomph to Virtual Reality Unit, as Apple Enters the Fray

As Apple wades in, Google needs to ensure its VR design is up to par.

Kimberly White | Getty Images

Now that Google has an official virtual reality division, it’s shuttling more Googlers into it.

The company has moved around 10 employees to a dedicated design team for VR, including Joshua To, a design lead for the apps unit, according to sources. A Google rep confirmed To’s move, but didn’t comment further.

Design is a critical element for Google’s success in VR. Most of the VR devices on the market, or coming soon, are considered lacking in their accessibility and aesthetic. And Google may face inordinate pressure to deliver here. (Remember Glass?)

Google is not known for its design acumen. But Apple, its mobile rival, is. And Apple may be competing on VR — the Cupertino company has a growing team devoted to the computing platform, per a Financial Times report on Friday. (Apple isn’t commenting.)

In recent years, however, Google has accelerated its attention, on products and in hiring, toward design. They’ve even talked about it.

So far, Google’s public face on VR has been Cardboard, the thrifty viewer introduced in 2014. But its incoming VR specialists are working with other parts of Google. Those include YouTube and Advanced Technology and Projects, the funky research arm behind Project Tango, an initiative to do 3-D mapping on smartphones.

To, the newest VR member, is a boomerang Googler — he worked there from 2006 to 2010, then returned two years ago when Google acquired Hattery, a design consultancy. Now To and his fellow designers will report up to Jon Wiley, a key design vet at Google who tiptoed from search over to VR earlier last year.

They all work under Clay Bavor, the very popular product manager and newly anointed VP for Google’s VR efforts. His engineering chief is Jeremy Doig, a Google engineering director, according to sources. Google also recently recruited a content VR lead for YouTube and Jason Toff, co-founder of Twitter’s Vine, to do something — we don’t yet know what.

Earlier this week, Google unfurled a sprinkle of VR metrics: It has shipped over five million Cardboard devices and consumers have watched over 350,000 hours of VR footage on YouTube.

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