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April 18, 2016updated 05 Sep 2016 11:25am

Google’s Android N hints at major VR upgrade

News: VR helper services set to allow customers to control VR apps and other functionalities under VR mode.

By Joao Lima

Google’s next mobile OS, codenamed Android N, could be the company’s next big bet in VR with the addition of an API support tool.

The latest developer preview of the software includes "VR helper services" buried in the Apps menu, according to Ars Technica.

Two apps included in the preview are named "VR Listener" and "VR Helper". They are located in the Android’s settings menu, under apps.

A preview of the VR Helper screen shows that users will be able to access a list of apps to be run as a VR service.

The hidden apps also include permission warnings that tell the user a certain app "will be able to run when you are using applications in virtual reality mode". This also suggests Google is creating a new mode for devices, the VR mode.

Citing people familiar with the matter, the WSJ has also reported that Google is retooling a new version of its Android mobile OS to handle virtual-reality devices.

According to the sources, one of the changes to the system would be the capability for a device to stay ON for longer periods of time.

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John Straw, technonomist at iDisrupted and senior advisor at IBM IoT, told CBR: "Google is driving adoption from bottom-up, providing mass adoption, more products for the market space. They did that with Cardboard, for example.

"When it comes to top-down, they are also well positioned with applications, for example, for gaming.

"Google is definitely positioning itself as a market leader, and this Android N is important."

Other features of the Android N OS include multi-window display, direct reply notifications, 3D touch like support, a new settings menu display and a better version of Doze Mode to save more battery life.

Google has not said when the OS will be released, but further features are expected to be revealed at the company’s annual software development conference, Google I/O 2016 in May.

Straw also said that Google’s previous $500m investment in Magic Leap, a start-up that has created three dimensional software that mixtures virtual and augmented reality together, will see the company grow its VR applications game.

"Magic Leap has three weeks ago raised a further $800m. They have raised $1.3bn so far, something extraordinary and getting into territories like Uber’s funding was. They are going to do something huge, and Google will be involved in it."

Elsewhere, Straw said that Google’s Android N could be the final piece Apple needs to also get into the VR industry.

He said: "We are missing Apple. They have a good market for phones. We will see something with the iPhone 7 in September [directed towards VR].

"Apple has always been late to the market, but always comes out with what is needed. If they do something with VR, adoption will be really heavy.

"This [Android] OS release can effectively help bring Apple to the game."

Straw said 2016 is the year every company with an interest in VR will position itself in this market, ahead of 2017, "the year of mass adoption in all fronts".


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