Google is turning up its focus on virtual reality, creating a new division led by former Google Apps VP Clay Bavor which will be dedicated to developing VR products like Google Cardboard, Re/code’s Mark Bergen reports.
Google confirmed the move to Business Insider.
Bavor has long led efforts for the enterprise and consumer versions of Google apps like Gmail, Drive, and Docs, alongside the development of the company’s cheap virtual reality headset, Cardboard, but this move transfers all of his non-VR duties to new cloud exec Diane Greene.
Since Google launched Cardboard in 2014, the smartphone-powered device has received positive reviews and increased its distrubition thanks to partnerships with classrooms and The New York Times. Still, the company’s VR efforts so far pale in comparison to those of Facebook-owned Oculus, which just opened pre-orders for its first consumer VR headset.
However, a recent presentation by YouTube business exec Robert Kyncl hints at a big reason why Google wants to amp up its virtual reality focus: It needs to stay on top of the next wave of video content.
Kyncl spent a large portion of his keynote at the Consumer Electronics Conference in Las Vegas talking about the role of virtual reality in digital video, inviting GoPro CEO Nick Woodman and Vrse VR director Chris Milk on stage to talk about how the three companies have worked together to change “the future of immersive storytelling.”
GoPro and Google partnered on a new VR camera last year, and Vrse made the video that prompted Google to send Cardboard to all New York Time’s subscribers.
Kyncl’s overall point during his Q&A session was that virtual reality is the future of digital video, YouTube will be the place to host that video, and that Cardboard will be the easiest way to view it.
Although Facebook’s Oculus headset and HTC’s Vive appeal at their outset to gamers, Google wants to own the entertainment content space — and the gobs of advertising dollars that come with it. Google will never make money sellings its uber-cheap Cardboard headset, but it needs the device to make VR content mainstream.
As Facebook aggressively pursues its own digital video platform and both companies make their mobile players 360-video compatible, an increased commitment from Google makes sense.
Although Kyncl didn’t mention Bavor in his talk, he said that the company is hurtling towards the goal of “making VR truly democratic and primed to grow exponentially,” and a new, focused VR division within Google sounds like a crucial part of turning that ambition into reality.
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