Android has taken a march on iOS with Google's own make-it-yourself Cardboard VR headset and now Samsung's Gear VR headset
made in collaboration with Oculus, the Kickstarter-funded VR company that Facebook purchased for $2 Billion in July.
The headset uses the 5.7-inch screen of the Note 4 or Note Edge as a stereoscopic 3D display, with head-tracking sensors and an external touchpad designed for both games and Android apps that can intelligently make use of a virtual reality environment.
Already there are sixteen games available for the Gear VR, including titles such as Temple Run VR, Omega Agent and Marvel Superpowered. In addition, Samsung and Oculus have partnered to create the Oculus Cinema with will offered 2D and 3D videos and movies, Oculus Home, an app and content store and Oculus 360 Photos and Videos to view panoramic digital media.
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|The Samsung and Oculus Gear VR headset|
The big question is whether Samsung and Oculus can convince Android developers to create VR versions of their apps and games for what will initially be a very limited market, and whether sales of the Gear VR and either Note 4 or Note Edge are enough to create a market big enough to sell apps to, especially when other platforms such as iOS or all non-VR headset owning Android users are a vastly bigger and more profitable market.
There's also the question over whether or not anyone will ever bother to play with the VR headset outside one's own home, given the evident impracticalities and effectively impossibility of safely walking down the street with a VR headset strapped to your forehead, or sitting at the bus stop with your VR headset on only for some mugger to smack you in the back of the head and steal your expensive gear.
Perhaps it the VR headset had a 360 degree camera that let you see the outside world from the inside of your headset, or easily switch to such a view, you could see people genuinely walking down the street and interacting with a virtual layer over the existing environment, but that scenario is unlikely to happen anytime soon.
There are expectations Samsung will sell up to 3 million Gear VR devices before the end of the year, suggesting at least that many Note 4 and/or Note Edge sales given these models are the only ones that work with the Gear VR, as well as predictions of up to 20 million units sold throughout 2015, which would be a solid result and highly competitive with sales figures of the Nintendo 3DS which has sold 45.5 million units to date, and the PS Vita, which has sold nearly 9 million units.
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|An example of what you see when you put the Gear VR on. |
Unfortunately for Samsung, these predictions are just that - predictions, so while Samsung might hope to sell this many units, and surely will sell quite a few of them, getting the all-important momentum of sales, developers and wider industry support will be Samsung's most important aim if a Gear VR 2 is ever to emerge to blockbuster success.
Samsung, Google and Oculus also face the threat of Apple's iOS 8, which has a new graphics platform codenamed "Metal", able to deliver next-gen console quality graphics to your smartphone's screen, which is a massive leap over the current generation of games and graphics on the iOS and other platforms.
While Apple made no mention of any VR headsets of its own at its iPhone and Apple Watch launch today in the US, it seems inevitable that a VR headset is one of the gadgets Apple's chief designer Jony Ive is tinkering on in the labs with a timeframe for release that is likely only to come when the time is right and Apple feels it has solved the really big problems that have plagued any of the industries it gets into.
So, we shall all be watching Samsung's Gear VR headset with great interest and certainly look forward to trying one on and experiencing it for ourselves.
Still, if you had to choose between a sub $500 VR headset that requires a brand new approx $1000 Samsung phone when you may still be very happy with your existing Galaxy S4, S5 or other Android handset like the HTC One M8, or getting yourself an Apple Watch for your iPhone 5C, 5s, or new iPhone 6 or 6 Plus... it will be interesting to see and watch which way consumers turn, because when it comes to sales, the Gear VR might just have to watch out.