A variety of virtual reality headsets are set to launch this year, but the main thing holding consumers back may be a hefty price, which can range from several hundred dollars to thousands, if you account for the computers needed to operate them. However, there is a suitable alternative where they can try out VR for a budget price thanks to Google Cardboard.

The company recently discussed the success of the device, made literally from cardboard and a few other low-cost materials so that smartphones can become VR screens. It looks like Cardboard is really catching on, which isn’t bad for a device many saw as a joke when it was first announced in 2014.

In the post, Google proclaimed that it shipped over five million Cardboard units, some of which really took off through various promotions. For instance, Cardboard viewers based on Star Wars: The Force Awakens were given away by both Verizon in stores and Google online, and were quickly snatched up by eager fans. Other tie-ins included a free giveaway promotion with Lays. Last year also saw a partnership with The New York Times to promote its new VR documentary video content, where a free Cardboard viewer was included with the Sunday print edition. Similar partnerships with Visa and other companies made it easy for users to their  hands on a unit.


Immersive app experiences with the Cardboard also picked up, with over 25 million apps installed from the Google Play store. Over the past two months alone, ten million installs were reached.

As for the apps that got the most popularity, Chair In a Room managed to impress with its presentation, while VRSE, Lamper VR: Firefly Rescue and others followed closely behind, creating a virtual reality experience without footing a large bill.They’re among several brands and companies that are taking advantage of Cardboard’s accessibility.


Videos and VR photos also played a part in the headset’s success, with over 350,000 hours of YouTube videos (that made use of the format) viewed, and over 750,000 VR-enabled photos taken with the Cardboard Camera. Students also played a big part in testing out the Cardboard, with over 500,000 users worldwide experiencing the educational Expeditions program, which lets students take virtual field trips to far off locations.

To support the growing popularity of Cardboard, and possibly take on rivals like Facebook’s Oculus, Google recently opened up a new virtual reality focused business unit. One of the creators of the Cardboard device, Clay Bavor, will head up the VR division, creating new experiences for potential owners. Although the company didn’t mention any specifics yet, new Cardboard units based on popular brands could also be introduced, especially considering how well the Star Wars-branded ones performed.

The question remains whether Google will work to develop high-end devices to better compete with companies like Oculus VR, or if it will focusing exclusively on the highly accessible Cardboard. Judging from YouTube officially supported virtual reality videos last November, and its mobile app updated with Cardboard support, it’s safe to say that we’re just starting to see the potential of this decidedly low-tech device.