SI Swimsuit Models Go Virtual With Wisconsin Printer’s Headset

Quad/Graphics has long been the company that’s printed hard copies of Sports Illustrated. Now, the two are extending their relationship into the increasingly popular world of virtual reality, starting with the magazine’s famed swimsuit issue.

Sussex, WI-based Quad (NYSE: QUAD) has developed a VR viewer made from foldable paper that the company says is included in 500,000 newsstand versions of this year’s swimsuit issue, which arrived in stores and mailboxes earlier this week.

The process is simple: remove the viewer from the magazine and fold it together; download the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit 2016 app, which is available for Apple and Android devices; and insert a smartphone into the headset. Users will be virtually teleported to the sunny shores of the Dominican Republic, and surrounded by women in bikinis striking seductive poses.

In a news release, Quad says those who use its viewer can get behind-the-scenes content and “intimate access” with five of the models.

Tim Fox is Quad’s director of custom products, a division that he says works to bridge the print and digital mediums. He says the arrangement made a lot of sense for his company, and also for SI.

“It’s hard to say who started this,” he says.

Quad began developing a simple, inexpensive headset after seeing what Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) had done with its Cardboard viewer, Fox says. (Google has said there are now more than 5 million Cardboard devices made by the company itself and third-party manufacturers, and that its Cardboard app has been downloaded 25 million times.)

Fox says Quad modeled its headset after Cardboard, and it shows: Like Google’s device, Quad’s viewer is little more than a box with two lenses that help a user focus on a phone running a VR-friendly app. Fox applauds Google’s decision to make its specification for Cardboard open-source.

“Google could have just patented this technology and kept it to themselves,” he says. “But they put it out there as an open environment—as public architecture. They said, ‘If you can make something that works, have at it.’”

Google also deserves credit for attempting to bring virtual reality to the masses, by introducing a viewer that costs about $20, Fox says. Headsets made by companies like Samsung and Oculus—which is owned by Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) and whose Rift model is available to pre-order, at a cost of $599, not including the high-powered computer necessary to run it—are geared more toward gamers and other techies, he says.

Fox calls Quad’s viewer—the one inside some editions of SI’s swimsuit issue—“version 1.0.” Its exterior features an image of a scantily clad model, as well as text indicating that it’s a product of SI. Quad is already working on a similar collaboration with InStyle magazine, Fox says, which like SI is published by Time Inc. (NYSE: TIME).

Headsets could be used to enhance a publication’s own content, or that of an advertiser, says Joel Quadracci, Quad’s CEO, president and chairman, in the news release. Fox says that other potential applications for the technology include virtual tours of college campuses and vacation homes.

Quad is unlikely to market its viewers directly to consumers, Fox says, and instead it makes more sense to sell or distribute through other businesses.

Quad is the largest American printer of magazines, catalogs, and retail inserts, spokeswoman Claire Ho says in an e-mail. Its first batch of headsets was manufactured at facilities in Wisconsin, Fox says, though it’s possible that some of the materials came from outside the state.

Jeff Buchanan is the editor of Xconomy Wisconsin. Email: jbuchanan@xconomy.com Follow @_jeffbuchanan

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