The New Samsung Gear Won’t be the Gateway Drug to VR

by Hunter Sappington | Oct. 13, 2015

The new Samsung Gear VROculus and Samsung have unveiled the consumer version of Gear VR which will become available for purchase in November, making it the first consumer version of the “new wave” of virtual reality (VR) headsets that will be coming late this year and in early 2016.

The biggest news is its price tag. The consumer version of the Gear VR is going to be sold for $99. That is approximately half the price of the Innovator Edition of Gear VR that Samsung was has been selling, primarily as a developer kit. The idea behind Gear VR is to make virtual reality widely accessible; because, according to Parks consumer data, 32% of America’s smartphone users have a Samsung smartphone, the barrier to entry may be lower than it will be with Oculus’s own device, the Rift, as well as the HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR.

Because this barrier to entry has been lowered, some are predicting that Gear VR might be the device that sparks a universal interest in virtual reality. The idea that Gear VR will be people’s “gateway drug” to VR has been thrown around quite a bit in the last few days. Virtual reality is certainly an exciting idea, and there is little doubt that it will become mainstream in the near future. But let’s think about it for a minute before confidently proclaiming that Gear VR will be the spark that sets the world on fire for virtual reality.

While the $99 price tag certainly will make the device accessible, there is a cheaper way for a consumer to have access to virtual reality today. That accolade goes to Google Cardboard which can be purchased for less than $5 and is compatible with more smartphones than Gear VR. However, Google Cardboard has been available for purchase for more than a year, and has not gained any sort of mainstream traction yet.

Yes, using Gear VR is going to result in a better experience than Google Cardboard. Yes, there will be more content available for Gear VR users upon its release, including its newly unveiled Netflix app that will eventually allow users from across the world sit in a virtual living room together and watch TV shows or movies and play the wildly popular game, Minecraft.

That being said, while Gear VR is clearly a superior device with better content behind it, it’s not that different of a system than Google Cardboard, and it shares many of the same limitations: weight, battery life, and reliance on a smartphone to power its apps. Gear VR’s head tracking is somewhat limited and doesn’t allow for motion control or any sort of positional tracking. The sense of presence that blows people’s minds when they try the Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR, or HTC Vive isn’t available with mobile VR headsets yet.

While these two mobile VR devices are made to enable the wider public to try VR for the first time, there just isn’t quite enough mass market demand for these devices yet. The biggest markets for virtual reality will be hard core gamers and VR enthusiasts who are going to want something more substantive than the Gear VR. With the heavy hitters in VR on the verge of releasing VR headsets at the end of this year and the beginning of next, those markets are most likely going to wait for products like the HTC Vive, PlayStation VR, and the Oculus Rift, leaving Gear VR to fall by the wayside.

That doesn’t mean that Gear VR won’t be a profitable or successful product. Future iterations of it should do well as the market matures. However, for now, Gear VR won’t be the “gateway drug” to virtual reality. That job will be up to a combination of the PC and console-based VR headsets that are just around the corner.

To learn more about the future of virtual reality and see a comparison of what the major players bring to the table, see Parks Associates' recent report, Connected CE: Trends and Innovation.

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