Today I just want to tell you some shower thoughts that came to my mind while I was talking with Michela, an universtity student that is making research on the Samsung Gear VR market. She made some questions to me about the mobile headsets and their market… and this took me to question the future of the Gear VR headset.
I’m a Gear VR fan. I spent a lot of money to buy the first Innovator edition: I remember having spent 3 weeks on ebay looking for the best offer for the Samsung Note 4 phone, until I found one at the amazing price of €499 (in supermarkets here the price was around €750!). When I tried it for the first time, I suddenly felt the amazing sensation of freedom to be finally wire-free: I was not tied to a PC anymore, I was free to move everywhere! I was also free to take my headset with me and I’ve been able to let some friends try VR while we were at a pub. Gear VR has also lowered the entry point for virtual reality: a Gear VR system is surely cheaper than a Oculus + PC one. Futhermore, if you buy a Samsung high-tier phone, you usually get a VR headset for free and this has helped a lot in spreading VR. Analysts say that VR has reached the mark of 5millions devices sold and it will reach 10 million in 2018.
I love Gear VR because in the mobile realm it is the best headset out there: Cardboard headsets are useful to make people dip a toe in VR waters, but their performance are mediocre. GearVR has more power and it is surely comfortable. Now it has also added a remote, that in my opinion it is the most adequate controlling system for such a device. Recently, Google has released Daydream platform, which is almost equivalent to Gear VR, but with the advantage of being compatible with a bigger number of phones.
But now I’m wondering what will be the Gear VR future… and with that I mean the long term future. In the short therm, for the above reasons, Gear VR will surely shine. But what about the long term? What they will be useful for? I’ll tell you my doubts so we can discuss together about them…
Gear VR can’t be a device to let just people enter VR, because it is not cheap. Furthermore in the long term, presumably after 2019, most people will start already owning VR headsets. The more the market will be penetrated by VR, the more something to let people enter VR will be useless. And even if it will be needed, it will continue to be Cardboards, because you can obtain them really for few money (on VU Dream, even for free!).
So, Gear VR could propose itself as a high-tier headset, but the problem is that it is just a high-tier mobile headset, not a high-tier headset. All tethered headsets are far superior to Gear VR: an Oculus experience is far better than a Gear VR one. Quality of an experience that is backed by a powerful PC is far superior: the graphics can be astonishing, the playtime can be longer (on Gear VR you have to take care of overheating), the framerate is greater, the controller schema is more natural (VR controllers vs remote), there is room-scale tracking, etc… So if someone is truly a gamer, just plays VR games with Oculus, Vive or PSVR (or the future Windows 10 headsets). There’s no reason to play with Gear VR to have a good-enough gaming experience.
Ok, so you may say that Gear VR is wireless and this is an advantage on the above headsets. But we all know that a lot of wireless kits for all the major headsets are popping out (e.g. the Vive TPCAST), so in the long term this advantage won’t exist anymore.
Gear VR could be for casual gaming, then. If tethered headsets are for heavy gamers, then mobile headsets are for casual gamers, that just want to play Candy Crush VR on the bus. Well, I don’t think so. As I’ve already suggested in this article, VR headsets suffer from a friction problem: do you really want to wear a headset in a bus just to play some minutes of a little game? I mean, taking it out of the box, wearing it, then launching the game, then removing it and putting it again in the box. I don’t think so. Casual smartphone gaming is successful because you just take the phone from the pocket, you play with it two minutes and then you end it very easily. You can even play casual games while you do something else, for example while talking with a friend of yours. In VR, you must be focused on your game. So, no, I don’t think VR casual gaming will be a thing.
About portability: let’s be honest, Gear VR is ok to be carried in a backpack, but it doesn’t fit in your pocket. So, taking it with you is not comfortable. There are some cardboard-like foldable headsets and you can take them always with you (rumors say that Google is studying some phone case that unfolds easily in a Cardboard viewer), but Gear VR is not one of them. When I had to take Gear VR with me at the pub, I had to take it inside a bag… and having that bag at the pub was a nuisance.
Furthermore, a lot of tech companies are trying to produce standalone headsets (e.g. Intel Alloy), that is headsets that are all-in-one and don’t need a PC or phone to work. According to a recent interview to Palmer Luckey, these could be the real future of VR. Something you just wear and you have instantly VR, without cables, without the need of external hardware to have room scale or hands tracking. Devices that are optimized for VR, to run VR for long periods of time. Again, Gear VR is not one of them and can’t reach their performances, since it is just a way to turn a general-purpose phone into a VR headset.
Then there’s the problem of compatibility: Gear VR is a Samsung-only platform… in the long run I guess that Daydream, being compatible with all phones, will succeed. In history, open platforms have almost always succeeded (Windows and Android are a clear example). Apple survives because it invested a lot in branding. Samsung GearVR is not a status symbol, it is not a powerful brand. So Daydream has high chances to win in the long term.
At last, let’s then finish with my personal idea of the future: in 10 years, AR glasses will be the new smartphones. We will wear AR glasses the whole day, so we won’t have a smartphone anymore, because we won’t need a screen in our hands when we’ll have it in front of our eyes! And if this will happen… what Gear VR will be useful to? In my opinion in the future we will have only a standalone AR/VR headset and will do everything with that.
So, I think that Gear VR will be crushed from one side from super-cheap Cardboard headset and from the other side from high-end wireless Oculus/Vive headsets, until the train of AR will hit it frontally. I really can’t envision a long term evolution of this platform… and let’s be honest, in these years while tethered headsets products are changed a lot, Gear VRs have just slightly evolved. I think that Gear VR will continue to expand in the medium term because of Samsung phone sales and because it is a good product, but in the end it will have to evolve in something else (like a standalone headset) or it will die.
These are just speculations, of course! I would really like to know your opinion about it!
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