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Google Cardboard May Be Most People's Introduction to Virtual Reality

The Coachella music festival is just the latest in a string of marketing promotions putting the entry-level VR device into the hands of the masses.


When Coachella festival-goers get their tickets mailed, they will find something surprising in their welcome boxes: A VR headset.

It’s just the latest in a string of companies tapping immersive content as a way to more deeply connect with customers.


Coachella’s VR player, like most of these efforts, is a version of Google Cardboard.

With so many companies using Cardboard as a promotional tool, there is a good chance that some version of it will be most people’s introduction to virtual reality. As of January, Google and others had already shipped five million Cardboard headsets.

McDonalds in Sweden is offering Happy Meals in boxes that can turn into VR headsets, while Coca-Cola has done something similar. The New York Times gave away more than a million of its own Cardboard headsets and has also started producing its own VR content.

These freebies are in contrast to more full-featured — and pricier — options such as HTC’s Vive and Facebook’s Oculus Rift. Samsung’s Gear VR can be a cheaper alternative at $99, but it requires a recent Samsung Galaxy phone that itself costs several hundred dollars.

While such devices offer important features for long-term watching — things like a head strap and adjustability to head shapes and facial structures — most consumers are likely to judge VR in part by their experience with the free cardboard version. If they like it, they’re more likely to eventually become customers for dedicated hardware. If not, it could be a long time before VR gets a second chance.

And while Google may have loftier hardware ambitions beyond Cardboard, the company’s primary goal is to get people accustomed to the VR format and the apps and YouTube videos that will fill it.

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