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Android N shows hints of native VR Mode

The latest trail of developer preview breadcrumbs points to native VR support in Android N.

Published onApril 16, 2016


Developer previews are chock-full of source code that points to all kinds of things – freeform window mode, 3D Touch, where Jimmy Hoffa is buried – but not all of them pan out. Sometimes though, the trail takes us somewhere we were already expecting to be taken: the latest trail of developer preview breadcrumbs points to native VR support in Android N.

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Ars Technica uncovered three separate hints of upcoming virtual reality support in the latest Android N Developer Preview update. The first is a menu option of all things, albeit a slightly obscure one. Head to Settings > Apps > settings (gear icon up top) > Special access, where you will find a new entry called VR Helper Services.

Android N Developer Preview 2 VR helper VR mode
It appears as though apps will be able to self-identify as VR Helpers and request access to the API that the user must agree to. Once granted, we assume VR Helper apps will provide headset popups whilst in VR Mode, which is also referenced in the Android N source code along with references to something called a VR Listener.

As Ron Amadeo elucidates, “in the settings strings there’s a permissions warning related to the VR service that states “[app name] will be able to run when you are using applications in virtual reality mode” [so] when Android kicks over into whatever this VR Mode is, the helper app will be able to pop up and do… something.”

Google Cardboard Arctic Adventure demo

Amadeo also uncovered references to a Sustained Performance Mode, which he attributes to the kind of hardware performance required to run VR applications for long periods of time without an overheating SoC booting the user out of VR Mode (as the first Gear VR was prone to do).

Of course, all of this could still amount to nothing because developer previews frequently contain references to things that don’t appear in final form. But it does lend some pretty convincing physical evidence to the circumstantial rumors pointing towards a standalone Google VR headset and the kinds of support the Project Tango smartphone will require in the coming months.

What do you think native support in Android will do for VR? Do you think smartphone-based VR will be more popular than console-based?

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