Google upgrades virtual reality headset, debuts AR features

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(Bloomberg) -- Alphabet Inc.’s Google introduced an updated Daydream VR headset and new augmented-reality software features, aiming to give consumers greater virtual- and augmented-reality experiences through the company’s new Pixel smartphones.

The latest Daydream headset will be launched Oct. 19 with improved lenses for better augmented reality apps, a design that’s more comfortable for the wearer, and new colors, including a light orange and blue, Google announced Wednesday in San Francisco. The Daydream is similar to last year’s model, in that it allows a user to slip the new Pixel, or more than a dozen other compatible phones, into the headset to play VR games, watch immersive YouTube videos, and view virtual tours of homes. At $99, the new model is $20 more than last year’s.

Augmented reality is a technology that superimposes digital information such as maps, text messages, video game characters and more onto a person’s view of the real world, while virtual reality submerses a user into a completely different digitally created world. So far AR has been most popular with mobile games.

Google has had impressive augmented reality technology for years, but few ways to get it used widely by consumers. A mobile developer tool released in August will help make AR easier to use on phones with the company’s Android operating system.

The new Pixel phones introduced Wednesday have cameras that have been individually calibrated for AR applications, said Clay Bavor, the company’s head of virtual and augmented reality. Google also announced its own AR tools, including a new feature called AR Stickers, which lets users drop virtual characters in their scenes and then save the footage as a shareable file.

Google is intensifying its effort in the technology as Apple Inc. also tries to make AR more mainstream through improved software on iPhones and iPads. Apple has jammed its new $1,000 iPhone X, available later this year, with augmented reality features.

Google will discuss more details about its work on standalone VR headsets later this year, Bavor said. Google previously announced it’s working with HTC and Lenovo on standalone headsets, units that don’t require a phone.

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