Google Daydream vs. Google Cardboard: The differences explained

May 30, 2017

Google Cardboard vs. Google Daydream

No doubt about it – virtual reality has improved and expanded in leaps and bounds within the last five years alone. While PC-tethered powerhouse headsets like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive have often dominated the headlines, Google has been buzzing right behind them with their in-house mobile VR darlings Cardboard and Daydream. The only question is, what’re the real differences between the two? Are they completely different platforms? Can you use Cardboard apps on a Daydream phone, and vice versa? We break down the two Google VR platforms so you can get a better understanding.

What is Google Cardboard?

Google Cardboard

Google Cardboard is a mobile VR platform that was initially developed by Google employees David Coz and Damien Henry in 2013 (fun fact: the idea came into fruition thanks to Google’s ‘Innovation Time Off’ program, which allows staff to dedicate 20% of their workload to personal projects.) Coz and Henry wanted to create a system that was low-cost and easily accessible, and the best way to do this was through the device a majority of the world already own – the smart phone – and an easily put together DIY viewer made from cardboard.

While the platform was initially pitched as a way for students to visit global museums using their device, the idea blossomed and was eventually announced to the masses at the Google I/O in 2014 as an open-source toolkit for developers and manufacturers to build upon. And build upon they did – as of 2017, over 10 million Cardboard-ready VR viewers have shipped globally and over 160 million Cardboard apps have been downloaded.

What is Google Daydream?

While Google Cardboard was born as a hobbyist idea, Google soon realized its immense popularity as well as the fact that the field of VR was becoming more and more mainstream. With this, they decided to get serious, and the ‘Daydream Lab’ team was born in 2015. Headed by the Director of Immersive Design Jon Wiley, the team began to work alongside not only top-notch engineers but also sculptors and architects in order to build upon and expand the Cardboard framework into a more sophisticated VR platform. Daydream was officially announced to the public in May 2016 alongside its own headset and motion-sensor controller.

What are the differences between Google Cardboard and Google Daydream?

As Daydream was created as the successor to Cardboard, the first and foremost biggest differences are the minimum requirements and operating systems. Cardboard was designed to be accessible for all casual users of VR, whether of Android or of iOS, with device memory and processing power taking a back seat. In comparison, Daydream is Android only, and as of now only a handful of devices meet the high and quite specific requirements in order to run.

With the strict minimum requirements of Daydream come a great improvement in graphics and sound as well as latency and screen resolution, as opposed to Cardboard-ready apps and devices that can vary greatly in their output quality. In addition, while there are hundreds of Cardboard-ready VR headsets on the market, Daydream is currently only compatible with the Daydream View headset and multi-button remote.

Do Google Cardboard apps work with Google Daydream?

While the Google Daydream ecosystem was built to run applications designed specifically for Daydream, it’s backwards compatible. This means that all Cardboard-ready apps are fully functional with Daydream-ready devices, however the opposite isn’t the same: Daydream apps won’t function on devices that aren’t listed on the Google Daydream site page.

In some cases, a developer will create their app with both Cardboard and Daydream functionalities, meaning that depending on the device you’re downloading from Cardboard or Daydream functions will be available.

What are some examples of Google Daydream apps?

Google Daydream

As Daydream is still a relatively new platform, there are fewer apps in comparison to Google Cardboard but of undeniably higher quality. Here are some notable examples of Daydream-ready and Daydream-compatible apps:


Videos, Movies & TV

Tools & Utilities


What’s next up Google’s sleeve? While the Cardboard platform won’t be disappearing anytime soon, the company’s heavy focus on its Daydream ecosystem is continuing to expand. At the Google I/O conference in May 2017, rumors of an all-in-one standalone VR headset based on Daydream came true as they announced partnerships with hardware manufacturers HTC and Lenovo. These headsets are slated to even further push the limits of mobile VR and VR as a whole, with the introduction of positional tracking that allows for greater freedom of movement as opposed to the current restricted fixed-point motion tracking of Cardboard and Daydream.

While long-time rival Apple are showing signs of entering the mobile VR and AR space, Google are still proving that they’re pioneers when it comes to easily accessible virtual reality: and they’re only just getting started.

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