Alongside the app launch, they will also be giving away free Google Cardboard headsets, both within last Tuesday’s newspaper from selected retailers in the UK and online after completing a registration form here.
We knew from a conversation with the Guardian‘s Executive Editor of VR Francesca Panetta in January of this year that the Guardian would be picking up its production pace on VR content throughout the year (last October, they hired a dedicated VR team). But more content also requires a more seamless, repeatable way to deliver that content. Enter, the new Guardian VR app.
Of course this announcement is significant, but what I find most interesting about it is what we can glean about how different publications are approaching VR content, its role in newsrooms, and the bets they’re making on how viewers want to consume this content. The easiest and perhaps most effective comparison is with the NYT VR app.
You might remember that when the New York Times launched its NYT VR app in the fall of 2015, they sent 1.3 million free Google Cardboards out to subscribers of the paper’s Sunday print edition.
Although the Guardian‘s app-launch-and-headset-giveaway concept seems very reminiscent, there are some definitive differences in the app functionality that could illustrate a difference in the publications’ approaches to VR content.
For example, the Guardian VR app requires viewers to download experiences, whereas the NYT VR app offered both download and streaming options. Although downloading does lend a better viewing experience, this model doesn’t give you the option to sample content before committing to it.
There is also no “magic window” mode with the Guardian VR app. It’s either Cardboard or Daydream, or not at all. The NYT VR app offers both.
The Guardian VR app also requires users to wear headphones to hear the audio of each piece, whereas the NYT VR app recommends headphones but still plays audio from the phone’s speakers if you don’t have your headphones plugged in.
Unlike the NYT VR app, there’s also no way to control the experience in the Guardian VR app, beyond exiting, changing viewing device, or pausing the video.
Another significant difference is the amount of content available within the apps. The NYT VR app is full of hundreds of 360 videos (you may remember the Daily 360 initiative they launched last November to share one 360 video each day), while the Guardian VR app has only a handful of VR experiences.
Titles on the app include the Guardian‘s premiere VR experience 6×9, which give the viewer a glimpse of life in solitary confinement. Previously, the full experience was only available within a dedicated app. Other content includes First Impressions: Experience the First Year of Life, The Party: A Virtual Experience of Autism, Sea Prayer: An Illustrated Story by Khaled Hosseini, Limbo: Experience the Wait for Asylum, Arctic360: Discover a Disappearing Landscape, and the upcoming Beat the Hustler: Experience a Street Con. The Guardian’s second VR project, Underworld, a self-directed guided tour of the subterranean labyrinth of London’s Victorian sewers, doesn’t appear to be available on the app.
But perhaps the most remarkable difference between the apps is what these subtle differences illustrate about how each publication expects us to consume VR content.
Although the launch of the Guardian‘s own dedicated VR app makes consuming their VR content less of a commitment than it was before–it works on more than just the Daydream View and doesn’t require a specific app for each and every experience–they still make consuming VR a destination. Many of the Guardian‘s VR experiences aren’t available in multiple places, whereas the New York Times shares its Daily 360 content on its website, YouTube channel, Facebook page, etc.
With the Guardian’s destination VR experiences, downloading each experience is like planning your trip, popping your phone into the headset is like hopping on an airplane, and putting in your headphones is like tying on that string bikini. And, voila, you’re at the beach. Or the Artic (Artic360). Or a jail cell (6×9). Or living as an infant (First Impressions).
The NYT VR app turns VR content (or, more specifically, 360 content) into a walk through your own city. You stumble across new restaurants and wander into shops you’ve never seen before–no planning or special attire required.
Essentially (it seems), the New York Times expects you to consume 360 like you consume vlogs, Facebook rants and news headlines. The Guardian VR app–for better or worse–expects more from you.
What type of viewer will you be?