Last week my work had a stand at Javazone, a developer conference with 3000 participants. I had been experimenting with Google Cardboard earlier and this was a great opportunity to test some ideas on a large crowd.

It was a sort of virtual reality user test and I am happy to share some insights.

The Google Cardboard viewer

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Google Cardboards came flat-packed, so people had to assemble it themselves. They came from Maxbox VR and the quality of the cardboard and print was very good. There were some minor problems:

Elastic bands were discarded (and phones were flying around)

Most Cardboards come with a rubber band which prevents phones from sliding out sideways. This is however very unclear so most people throw them away.

Protective film not always removed

The film protecting the lenses are sometimes not removed resulting in blurry vision and make people wonder if the quality is really thát bad.

 

The app

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The app consisted of 3 demo scenes: a “find the logo”, an airplane and a visualisation of the balance of several bank accounts.

User input: no one understands how to click!

The Cardboard SDK provides a “gaze input” module which is sort of point and click.

Pointing is easy: you see a crosshair on the screen that shows you what is clickable by changing shape. This is not a very strong cue, but fortunately you can also  highlight or animate the object being gazed at. I strongly recommend adding this optional affordance. See people can now see what is clickable.

Earlier versions of Cardboard came with a magic magnetic button. Google has unfortutely dropped support for it, probably in favour of their upcoming VR platform Google Daydream (More on that later).

Today’s Cardboards come with a simple hole at the bottom, so that you can tap the screen with your thumb to initiate a “click”. This hole is totally misunderstood, so if you design a viewer and/or app, I recommend designing a big arrow on the viewer with instructions and creating a info screen upon starting the app, forcing the user to understand how to click. Otherwise your hole app basically fails..

Placement of menus and buttons

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Our app featured a back (tilbake) button on the virtual floor, to go back to the main menu. But nobody noticed this. It was however easy to say “look at your feet” – problem solved right away. So this should be designed differently:

Youtube: nice if there´s no other interaction

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Menu in Youtube in VR mode

If your app only features media scenes, without interactive objects, the Youtube app is your inspiration! You can simply tap whenever and a menu will pop up right in front of you with a set of buttons.

Cardboard Camera: simple and flexible

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Menu at the bottom of the “screen” in Google Cardboard Camera

But if your app features interactivity, the Youtube style menu won´t be possible. An option then is to fade in some controls when looking down slightly -but a lot faster than before the user gazes at his feed. I found this a very convenient way of navigating: you encounter the menu within the fist seconds of looking around, it doesn’t exclude the possibility to interact with other objects and once learned, you will always find it in the same place.

Controlling the airplane

I learned a lot from developing another airplane app, read more about it here. The take-away is to NEVER EVER lock the camera direction to a moving object without tracking the user’s head and allow for control with subtle head movements.

During development, I had the axis mis-matched and got motion sick within 3 seconds. So, whatever you do, track the user’s head in your scene.

Concluding

Even though the demos were simple, people had a very strong experience, much stronger then when viewed directly on a smartphone screen. Quite a few exclaimed oohs and aahs and looked around in a simple scene for quite some time.

Interaction with Google Cardboard is limited and needs explanation. This will be greatly solved with Google’s upcoming daydream platform, which features a controller. I cannot wait for this platform to arrive, it will make it so much easier to use VR on phones and will allow for much more interesting interactions!