Google shipped an interesting product and pretty website for cardboard. Basically a cheap way to turn your cheap cellphone in to a AR display unit a-la Oculus Rift. Only very crappy with low resolution and high latency; good enough to prototype & play with which is great. You put a phone in it and it pretends to be a VR display.

Someone on Hacker News posited that “Somebody should do a Kickstarter to make and ship copies of this kit for $5 or $10.” So I dug in to it a little. Here’s what my rough bill of materials looks like:

  • cardboard 1.59
  • lenses 9.00
  • ring magnet 3.98
  • disk magnet 1.98
  • velcro 2.98
  • rubber band 0.01
  • nfc tag 1.50
  • postage 5.00
  • sub total 26.04
  • labor 5
  • margin 5
  • unit cost 36.04

So let’s call it $35. This is roughly half the cost of a Dive unit. And the dive unit actually ships, is made out of plastic and you don’t have to think about building it.

A laser cutter big enough to cut the cardboard is about $11k and at $5 margin per unit you’re looking at needing to ship $80k of these cardboard units to recoup the cost, which I’m assuming would be a reasonable goal. I don’t think anyone will raise $80k of cardboard kits but as ever I could be wrong.

dodocase are flying a kite to sell a unit for $20 which is clearly too cheap without massive volume, unless you can somehow turn it in to a loss leader for something else.

So, in sum, cardboard VR headset cases are kind of irrelevant. The cost isn’t the cardboard vs. plastic housing material: It looks like it’s everything else like the lens units, the postage, the risk, the labor and so on. The PR value is of course very high. There’s clearly tens/hundreds of millions of dollars of PR value out of cardboard for roughly half that in fully loaded headcount and other costs – it all depends how you account for it. The narrative that “Google did something cool” (e.g. cardboard) out of the I/O event is worth a significant sum of money and they deserve all the credit for executing on that.