You might recall that Google unveiled its Cardboard hardware at last month's Google I/O event. Literally made of cardboard, the company's remarkably low-cost virtual reality goggles combine a split-screen 3D image from a smartphone, delivering impressive graphics for the low, low price of almost free. Combined with positional sensor data from the phone, it's possible to look around a 3D environment with a high level of fidelity.
Google released Cardboard along with a set of demonstration apps (virtual reality YouTube and Google Earth, along with a charming VR animated cartoon and more) and the Viewmaster-like visor works with other 3D apps as well. The only problem? Google intended Cardboard for Android, so Apple iPhone users were shut out of the party. At least, that's the way it might have seemed.
It turns out that you can use Google Cardboard with a number of iPhone apps right now. The only requirement to experience the same 3D virtual reality that Android users have had since Google I/O is an app that displays 3D using a split screen display. And a handful of iOS apps do that.
One of the best examples of the genre is Dive City Rollercoaster. This app places you in a rollercoaster with loops, dives and corkscrews. The app takes advantage of your iPhone's accelerometer, so you can look around as you're riding; you aren't restricted to a straight-ahead view. If you have tried Google Cardboard on Android, this app might seem familiar -- there's a version of it in the Google Play store as well.
And there are others. Moorente is a virtual duck- hunt, where the sky is filled with dozens and dozens of 3D rendered birds. Move your head around and stare at them a moment, and your shotgun automatically fires, blasting them out of the sky. It's not much of a game, nor is it especially realistic. Instead, Moorente demonstrates the potential of virtual reality, and it's an amusing diversion to drive the point home.
If you're an iPhone owner and want to see what the fuss is about, you can always make your own Google Cardboard from Google's official plans, or you can buy a completed cardboard visor. Unofficial Cardboard, for example, now sells a visor that's ready to go for just $20, down from the $30 it was priced at a few weeks ago.
With Oculus Rift and a variety of virtual reality devices on the horizon, now has never been a better time to explore what the future of 3D and virtual reality has to offer.